Maureen Murray, November 05, 2019

Title

Maureen Murray, November 05, 2019

Subject

Advocacy
Bassett Hospital
Catholicism
Feminism
Gender Equality
Healthcare
Individualism
Nursing
Religion
Volunteerism
Voting Rights
Women's History

Description

Maureen Murray is a retired nurse currently living in Cooperstown, New York. Originally from the Bronx in New York City, she grew up as Maureen Fitzgerald in the 1950s and 1960s. She was the eldest child in a family of two parents and seven children. Her family was Catholic and heavily involved as volunteers in their community, and with the Christian Family Movement, which was the first Catholic organization for lay couples. Maureen’s family frequently hosted traveling officials from the church, which is how she met her husband Dennis Murray. Dennis and Maureen grew closer by writing letters to one another, despite Dennis being drafted into the Vietnam War.

Maureen was always an excellent student and was encouraged from a young age by her family to pursue nursing. She started her education in nursing at Hunter College in New York City, and married Dennis in her senior year. Maureen mentions protesting rising tuition costs in Albany during her time as an undergraduate student. Maureen moved to Cooperstown, New York when she was offered a job at Bassett Hospital – she originally became interested in Bassett because of its status as a teaching hospital. Maureen achieved her Master’s in Nursing from Russell Sage College while working at Bassett, which is when she wrote her thesis relating to the history of Bassett nurses. Maureen was inspired to write her thesis when she realized no comprehensive history had ever been done of Bassett nurses, and how important it was to capture and record this history – she interviewed many nurses while performing research for her thesis. Maureen worked in several different departments at Bassett Hospital, including Medical/Surgical, Obstetrics/Gynecology, and Oncology. She also worked with a struggling rural hospital in Cherry Valley and presented at lectures and seminars pertaining to the medical field.

Maureen frequently discusses topics of gender equality and her pursuit of uniqueness and individualism, telling several anecdotes exhibiting ways she questioned societal expectations, challenged the status quo, and traversed the less traveled path. She was a proponent of preserving women’s contributions to the medical field before comprehensive histories were being written about nurses. From the mid- to late-20th century, Maureen grew up and began working when the role of women in the workplace was largely contested – this time period saw major changes with women becoming more independent as they pushed for gender equality. She describes her interests in helping and uplifting women through her work, both as a nurse and as a member of the League of Women Voters.

I interviewed Maureen in her home in Cooperstown, New York. Maureen and I discussed potential talking points before the interview, which can be attributed to a few of the hesitations between topics during the interview itself. I chose to omit transcribing some of the interruptions during the interview to prevent disrupting the flow of the transcript. I would recommend listening to the audio to get a better sense of the interview itself. Maureen chose to restrict some elements of the interview.

Creator

Lauren Taylor

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2019-11-05

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
43.9mB
audio/mpeg
41.4mB
audio/mpeg
39.6mB
audio/mpeg
8.6mB
image/jpeg
2904 x 1936 pixel

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

19-019a

Coverage

Upstate New York
Cooperstown, NY
1950-2019

Interviewer

Lauren Taylor

Interviewee

Maureen Murray

Location

379 CR-52
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

MM = Maureen Murray
LT = Lauren Taylor

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

LT:

All right. This is the November 5th, 2019 interview of Maureen Murray by Lauren Taylor for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Community Stories recorded at Maureen's home in Cooperstown, New York. Maureen, if you could just state your name and your current address for me.

MM:

Yes, my name is Maureen Murray. I live at 379 County Highway 52 in Cooperstown.

[TRACK 1, 0:46] – Early Family Life

LT:

Great. So I guess we'll just get started. Could you tell me a little bit about your life growing up in the Bronx?

MM:

Yes. I was born the oldest of seven children. I wasn't born that way immediately – it took some time, but it was an active Catholic family. At that time, birth control was not accepted, and my family complied, I think. It was a large, rambunctious and very interesting experience.

I think I got the best of the birth order because my mom did not work. She was the standard – this was the 1950s. She was the stay-at-home mom. My dad worked on Wall Street and he was gone early in the morning. We picked him up at the train station late at night. He often missed dinners with us, and I remember an aluminum pie plate with his dinner that got warmed up for him when he came home.

It was sort of fun. There wasn't a lot of money. I think I was more acutely aware of that than maybe my siblings. In fact, my younger sister, who is about 14 years younger than I am, lives in the village of Cooperstown, so I see her on occasion. Her growing up experience was very different. There was less financial pressure for her because things had improved for my family, and yet my mom and dad were sort of tired. I'm not talking about when she was a small child, but when she was an adolescent, and later that I think my parents were sort of tired. They didn't engage as much with her. Again, not a neglect situation, but I remember my mom working with us at the dining room table doing homework. The kitchen was next door. I remember her drilling into my head the difference between a predicate nominative and a predicate adjective. I did get the English medal when I was graduating from eighth grade, and I credit her with all of that.

They got engaged in a liberal leaning organization for lay couples involved in the Catholic Church. I don't think it was only [Catholic], but it was mostly Catholic and that, in my view, changed their lives. For me, and this is where it comes up that I was of an age to accept it and understand it, whereas my sister, 14 years younger, was more oblivious to it.

It was sort of amazing because part of their social justice agenda was to bring strangers into the house who needed housing or to do things for the poor. We were involved as a family in these things and [with] pacifists from the Catholic Worker Movement. That was a Dorothy Day led organization in the [1950s] and [1960s]. She is now being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church. It was just interesting that these people from all over the world came for various reasons, and sometimes we didn't even know the reason. Some priests we knew would call us and say, “Do you have a place for so-and-so tonight?” And [my parents] said yes, and so it was quite an amazing family.

We didn't get away with much, so there was no drama. And I'm saying this because I just came back from babysitting two grandkids – lovely, lovely people. The three year old is a bit of a drama queen, and she gets paid attention to. At my house, if you had a tantrum of some kind, you generally got made fun of or ignored, and so pretty soon you sort of right sized your emotional reaction, so none of us got to take each other or ourselves seriously.

My parents were involved in a lot of additional things besides this Christian Family Movement – that was the name of it. I learned when my mother died that it was the first Catholic organization for lay couples. You may not know much about the Catholic Church, but there was the Altar Guild, which was all women. The Holy Name Society, which was all men, generally. So this was the first organization for couples. The emphasis was on deepening the marriage and doing that by doing Christ-like kinds of things.

They were great volunteers in the community, and my father being involved in direct mail. He worked for a public relations firm whose clients were Wall Street companies. He was not a financier, but he had all the capacity and the know-how to write up a brochure or write advertising, certainly to write the papers. Many of my siblings remember the desperate just-before-deadline race up to Yonkers, just north of the Bronx, to the home of – and I remember her name – [Ann?] Yedowitz. Somehow whatever she did, my dad had to get the draft, the lay-up, or whatever it was [to her]. It was just at deadline. Sometimes eight hundred copies of whatever he had produced would come back to the house. The dining room was a good size with a big size dining room table, and so we would often, of course – the children were like slaves, so we'd sit around the dining room table with ivory bone or bone folders and take it and fold it, it's a very smooth thing that would make a nice crease. We often recruited the neighborhood kids. They thought this household was so interesting because very interesting things happened in this household.

Of course, being from the Bronx, the Yankees [were] a favorite team, and though my dad was not all that passionate, all my four brothers are and were – two have passed away. The two most passionate have passed away. The Yankees [were] a big deal in the Bronx. There was a young Hispanic fellow who came from somewhere, Central America, South America, on his way to a seminary in the U.S. This is one of the individuals that was housed at my house over, I don't know, a couple of days, before he could get his airplane to go wherever it was he was going. To my brothers, he looked just like – I can't come up with the name – but a Hispanic Yankee, so my brothers passed him off to the neighborhood as this famous Yankee player. Of course, the neighborhood was just agog about it and he played along. He didn't know English very well, but he got the joke. I'm just trying to give you a flavor of what that household was.

I don't want to paint it in an ideal way. I remember being worried about finances. I think oldest children are sometimes the worriers. My grammar school, Catholic grammar school, was attached to the parish we were part of, so the tuition was two dollars a month and paid only once. No matter how many children you had in school, it was still two dollars a month. Now, again, you're so young. But the nuns were our teachers. We had some lay teachers, but mostly the nuns, and they weren't paid. And so now, of course, they don't have any Social Security when they're ill and infirm. So that was a strange situation then, but that helps explain how two dollars a month for five kids in the grammar school made it.

But again, I'm trying to balance what I say about the family – there were fights among the kids. I was called Lucy because I was bossy and mean, and I probably was. To me, it was great fun and it was a very special experience. That doesn't happen anymore, because you don't often find families that large for lots of good reasons. But I think it was precious. My parents were great people. My dad had great gravitas. He didn't speak a lot. But when he spoke, people listened. I love how they made me.

I was married in 1970. I don't think my consciousness was raised, and so I took my husband's last name. I don't have any regrets about it, but my maiden name is Fitzgerald, and I saw it on a billboard somewhere in Chicago. I think it's some kind of bourbon or some kind of alcohol. I looked at the name and I said, “Goodness that is a handsome name.” So I put it back in the middle. That's my middle name formally as a registered nurse – you sign your name a gazillion times. I went to the trouble of changing my name on my license and with the New York State Education Department. I signed that long, long name over and over and over as I practiced nursing. I'm sort of proud of that Fitzgerald background.

[TRACK 1, 11:14] – Early Schooling and Applying to College

LT:

You talked a little bit about your schooling. Can you talk a little bit more about that, maybe across time?

MM:

Sure. Of course, we went to the Catholic school that I mentioned and it was called St. Benedict’s Grammar School, because that was the name of the parish and it was staffed by Benedictine monks. That's unusual because in the city, this would have been in what's called the Archdiocese of New York. Big geographic [area], peri-urban around Manhattan. For an odd reason, this parish was staffed by monks that came from an abbey, a Benedictine abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. They don't staff it anymore, but we loved the Benedictines and those Benedictines have had an imprint on me as well. Maybe we'll get to talk about it.

I went through grammar school. I did well. The family was well known and we had a good reputation. Of course, everybody loved a big family. My parents, as I said, were involved. We were pretty well known in the parish. I excelled academically. I went to a Catholic all girls high school, also in the Bronx – the formal name was Monsignor Preston High School. It was staffed by religious nuns partly and partly lay teachers. It was a good high school; not elite in any way. So I did OK. I was a member of the National Honor Society, but in a bigger pool, there were many academic stars way, way ahead of me. I was very involved in activities, intramural basketball. I'm not an athlete to play varsity, but intramural. I used some of the writing skills that both my parents had.

A little review, back in grammar school, engaged with my mom and homework and stuff like that. So here's a little scenario, a little story. I don't know what grade it was – third grade, fourth grade, [or] fifth grade. It's February, and we have to write an essay about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, those two birthdays. Maybe they were farther apart, and now it's Presidents Day. I think they linked them. There was a Lincoln birthday. They were large classes, by the way—about sixty students. Fifty nine of the sixty students would begin the essay. “Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th...” So here I am looking at this blank piece of paper and my mother suggests a start that is different. I don't know if she prompted me, I can't remember exactly, but this is a funny little story. It's so autobiographical. I started it in an unusual way rather than that sort of scripted thing. “The man whose face appears on… is Abraham Lincoln.” It was just an unusual thing. She always suggested something a little bit more creative, and I've continued to do that because I just don't want to be usual.

There is a wonderful [musical], now gone, but for decades it was off-Broadway called The Fantasticks. It's a sort of fantastic story. Great, great music. The heroine sings something about how she would like to be. One of her phrases is, “Oh, God, don't make me normal.” I'm sort of like that. I don't mind standing out. I have in my life stood out sometimes just to be different. At the hospital, for instance, because I had been there for a long time, I had the ego strength to stand up and ask an uncomfortable question. Then people would say, “I'm so glad you asked the question. I wanted to know, but I was too scared.” That just may have been started by my mother urging me to not be normal, to be a little bit unusual.

So back to high school. It was great fun. I started to talk about my writing skills, so I was an assistant editor of the school newsletter. Applying to college was a little complicated. There was some period of time when I was a junior, when all of the pressures come to bear on high school students who are thinking about college. I felt in my head that I just wasn't making sense. Nothing made sense to me. I don't know how long it lasted. I remember that short period of being discomfited and just not being well grounded. So something happened, whether I was stressed or what.

My father's mother was still alive. My father's two parents were alive and engaged with us. Nana, we called her nana. Now, I could call her a Renaissance woman. I'm not sure that all of that was clear to me until I was older. She was a registered nurse, and a poet. So there's poems that she wrote about me and all of the other six Fitzgerald children. She sort of manipulated who we would be. She and an aunt of mine who was named Maureen Fitzgerald – I was named for her – she had a doctorate in psychology and taught at Marymount College in Manhattan. Unbeknownst to me, my aunt and my grandmother concocted a plan for me to be a nurse.

I don't have much explanation about how this happened. It was not without my consent, but my applications to college were all to nursing colleges, but they were all to college. I might have mentioned when I first met you the other day about when I came out of college and had a job – maybe I didn’t talk to you about it. When I got out of college, a registered nurse with a college degree was a little unusual. I had really no idea even about the various methods, pathways to become a registered nurse. Maybe this was not so prevalent then. The two pathways were the college, the university-based nursing education or the more traditional Nightingale traditional hospital-based [education]. Based on my history of nursing in the late nineteen-hundreds and early 20th century, all hospitals had a training school for nurses. The Thanksgiving Home here in Cooperstown. Do you know of it? It's a licensed adult home, but it was the Thanksgiving Hospital established in 1865 or so after the end of the Civil War. My understanding is it was in Thanksgiving for the end of the war. A small hospital here in Cooperstown had a training school for nurses, because that's how they staffed the hospitals. Education was sometimes secondary to how the nurses helped the hospital. It wasn't quite that extreme.

Fast forwarding now to the 1960s. I graduated from high school in 1967. I applied to four colleges and one was Hunter College, which is part of the city university. I lived in the New York area, and my parents paid city taxes. The city university was very inexpensive, less now, but then we lived in a dormitory and I had a single room. The room was free. My uniforms were free. For two years, all the meals were free and the tuition was something like two hundred dollars a year. Yeah, that resonates for you, doesn't it? I got accepted at these four places where I applied. One was a Catholic college in New Hampshire with Benedictine monks, and we had a connection, and I got a half scholarship. But it wasn't enough. I didn't feel forced into the decision to go to the city university option. If I did, I think I squelched it, because I certainly didn't want to make a fuss with my parents, who would have six kids behind me to send to college. P.S. Not all of them went on to college, but that was their own doing.

Again, I don't exactly remember if I felt compelled or that I lost something by choosing the inexpensive option, but I think I got a fantastic education and I loved the bargain. At some point in my college career, I think Governor [Nelson] Rockefeller was going to up the tuition and here we were paying nothing. We all went up in buses from the college to Albany. So, so far away, it seemed to me, to protest. We didn't get any increase. It has since increased a whole lot – I don't know what it costs now. When I think of the value that I got, because [in] nursing education you have an instructor for 10 students while they're on the clinical unit, because the instructor has to keep everybody safe, so nursing education is very expensive. Those were four difficult years. I got married after three. And there's a story there that brings me back to when I was 14 years old.

[TRACK 1, 22:00] – Dennis Murray

I mentioned the link with this abbey in Minnesota, which staffed my rectory. Of course, my parents were very involved and very engaged. My mother organized a street festival with all of our largely Italian neighbors – Irish and Italian. The Italians love to cook, and taught my Scottish-born mother how to cook Italian.

There was this fiesta. That's what we called it. Everyone was bringing lasagna, and all sorts of food. My mother called up to the rectory and said, “Send anybody down.” It happened that there was this priest from the abbey who was just spending an overnight in this rectory on his way somewhere else. He came, and his name was Father Eric. He was brand new to the family, but somehow made an impression on my mother. This is in the middle of a summer day, so the dads were not around. Somehow or other, Father Eric made enough impression on my mom that my brother right behind me – he was, I think just a year, although we were more than a year apart in age, he was maybe just one year behind me – when he went off to high school he went to the prep school in this abbey in Minnesota because he thought he wanted to be a priest. P.S., the tuition was free for priesthood students. Not that this was a game on my parents’ part, my brother just had that concept. This Father Eric then taught Jim and we were very involved in this prep school, which brought us closer to this abbey. This priest and my parents end up just staying connected even after my brother decided not to be a priest. I mean, what high school kid can make that significant decision? So thank goodness he made another decision. That relationship with Father Eric lasted a very, very long time – until they died, each of them, my mother and Father Eric and my father.

But way, way back, Father Eric writes that he has a former student from St. John's Prep who is now a seminary student in Maryknoll, which is another order of priests up on the Hudson River in Ossining, New York – that's their major seminary. He writes, “A former student of mine, Dennis Murray, is up in Maryknoll and his family's far away. Why don't you invite him to the house?”

I mentioned how common it was to bring all sorts of strangers into the house. My mother writes to this Dennis Murray and says, “You don't know me, but we know Father Eric. We know Father Eric taught you. Why don’t you come to our house for Thanksgiving?” A bit of my mother's humor – he has to get to the city somehow on his own. He doesn't have a car, but my mother tells him how to get from Manhattan up in the subway back to the Bronx. My mother says, “You'll recognize our car. There'll be a gorgeous redhead in it.” Seminarians, you know, they're celibate, right? So he's a young man. Dennis thinks, “Oh, my God, they've got a daughter.” Of course, she's talking about herself, who was a natural redhead, though she grayed early and then had to artificially keep hair red for a long time.

Dennis Murray enters the household. He's 22 or 23. I'm 14 or 15. He's a seminarian. I'm not thinking romantically, but I was a little precocious. In my mind's eye and with my girlfriends, I already had sort of a demographic of what my husband or what a boyfriend would look like, and this fellow fit. He was polite, had clean fingernails. I mean, these are the things you're thinking of, when you're 15 years old – or what I was thinking of. That's the beginning.

Dennis came from a large family. He was the oldest of eight, so he was completely at home in my very informal family. Well, everyone welcomed him in the door and then we'd all go our separate ways and he was alone in the living room or something. The sister that I mentioned is 14 years younger than I am, he would change her diaper, because he just fell into the family. He came back with many other seminarians because they were all happy to have a warm, comfortable home where they didn't have to be uptight. They could just say what they needed and they just made us laugh.

Dennis continues to be part of the family. My mom writes to him on a regular basis. Soon something has changed in my head. Maybe a little hormonal surge, I don't know. I proposed to my mother – I was so strategic – I said, “Why don't I write to Dennis for the family?” So I take on that responsibility. My mother was very happy to give it up, she had plenty to do. Again, I'm a pretty good writer, so I artfully and lightly included paragraphs, sentences or phrases to let him know I was growing up.

He leaves the seminary before being ordained, recognizes that the celibate life is not for him. He goes to Northwestern University in Chicago, gets a master's degree in journalism. In the meantime, I'm making my way through high school. He gets a job in Grand Rapids as a reporter. He's sort of a late into the career world because he's been in this seminary – he was in a seminary all his life, the high school and on to the novitiate, and other kinds of steps before the major seminary. He's late into the career world, and this is in the middle of the Vietnam War, so he actually gets drafted. He’s just months short of being over age, but he gets drafted, so he ends up being assigned to Panama, and comes to visit the family before he goes off to Panama.

His family is in Chicago now. His family moved around a lot, and then – I don't know whether his flight left from the East Coast – but he made a visit to the Fitzgerald’s on his way to Panama. He's there for a year and he knows that people are going to Vietnam. He actually puts himself in a position to be assigned there because he could choose the job. He was a journalist. In Panama there was nothing going on. They were doing whatever army people do. He would jump out of airplanes for a hobby, which is sort of crazy. There was a parachute club. He gets in good – he was a good soldier. He gets in good with people who can shape his life, and he applies for a position appropriate for journalists in Saigon.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

He comes to the Fitzgerald’s again on his way to Saigon and, he's a member of the family. He's like a big brother. I'm in college now, and I'm young, maybe a freshman in college.

The Bronx is very close to Manhattan, it’s just a train ride in. There was this little family outing to go see a movie in Manhattan that night. Now, I had no idea of this, but maybe my mother was behind the fact that everyone else sort of dropped out of the plan except Dennis and I. So the two of us went down to the movie by ourselves. We come back to the house. Everyone's asleep and we sit on the couch, and somehow our feelings for each other were presented. I don't know who started it, but we found out that we were really caring about each other, and from far away, because no word had been passed between us except my little artful flirtations – and I think he flirted back. He would tell me about the dates he had in Grand Rapids and all of that stuff. We have one kiss. He goes off to Vietnam and I’m in college and our relationship developed by letter.

It we would be more common if two people were building a relationship, they'd have a date. You can imagine they get more and more, they get closer and they know more about each other, and their relationship deepens, face to face. By some strange chance, I have all those letters. If you knew me, it would surprise you that I kept all his letters. But what's really surprising is that he kept his, because he was not nostalgic like I was. But after he died, I started to put them together, but it was just too much. I couldn't do it, but I subsequently sort of found the dates and I'd put them in [order]. September 10th, and then one came back September 17th, and then I sent one. It’s probably boring to anybody else, but it's interesting to see how flirtations got more and more intimate.

Of course, all of the nursing students in the dormitory knew about this, and they knew when the letters came from Vietnam because they could see, our mailboxes were little pigeonholes, and you could see through the glass on the outside where it came from. There was this strange return address for the army folks. When we weren't in clinical instruction, we were taking ordinary literature and history stuff up at the college, which was on 68th Street, and we were living at 26th. If I'd be up there for classes, I'd say to somebody, “If my mail comes in and you see something from Dennis–”. They all knew about it. I'd go down and read these letters to them, or parts of them.

He does a year in Saigon and comes home, thank God. He wasn't out fighting a whole lot, but he was writing newsletters, and writing propaganda, actually. He comes home in October, and in January we're engaged. So that long story to say how I got out of college as a married woman because I got married after my junior year. He was older than I and there was no reason to wait. I actually got the best grades as a married woman because there were no shenanigans, no all-nighters in the dormitory. I was a married woman, and so I came home.

We lived in Rockland County, which is north of the city. I had a fairly long commute. I couldn't do the homework on the bus. We had our dinner and then I went to my desk and he went to his reading, and I was a pretty good student. I should've gotten married when I was in high school, because then I'd be Phi Beta Kappa or something.

Anyway, he was a wonderful, wonderful man. There was none better. Just a fine, fine person. And we had a great life. Three wonderful children. Jim, our oldest, was born in 1973. It occurs to me he was just 48. I have old children. My children are five and six years apart, which for some that's a big interval. We had no game plan. Some families will plan, which is fine for them, and maybe we could have, but we didn't. We just let it unfold. Five or six years later, Patrick was born and he's in Michigan, and my youngest is right here. He actually lives in Milford, but he works at Mel’s in Cooperstown – do you go to Mel’s at all? OK. He's bartender manager, dark beard, you might know him. You can say that you met me [laughs].

[TRACK 2, 5:53] – Nursing Education and Master’s Thesis

So you're asking about college? I did go quickly through college because I dropped into the getting married thing. I entered college with some honors. They put me into some honors slots for the academic [courses], not nursing, but the nursing regimen. The curriculum is very tightly organized because you spend full mornings or full afternoons on the clinical ward. That robs a lot of opportunities for taking classes.

I thought Hunter was the best. I've loved living in the city. I had a phrase that said, “Don't let your classes interfere with your education.” I'm a curious chick, and I got some kind of a newsletter that told me of all of the things that were happening in Manhattan. I knew I would not be in Manhattan forever, so I'd look at it and I would just go to these strange events by myself just because I thought that they were interesting or I was curious about it. I did OK in college, especially my senior year when I was a more serious student. But college was great.

I loved living in the dormitory. We were assigned by our last name. So some of my best friends are “F's”, “G’s” and “E's” because we were all together. Except one of my best friends from college is a “W,” and she was assigned to the 10th floor because of how the alphabet went. But she was a good friend with “G” – they went to school together. So “W” and “G” were often together and so she's been my bud and was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and I stay in touch with her. So it was good. I loved it. I loved being there. It was hard work, scrambled, and so that's school.

LT:

Can you tell me a little bit about your master's thesis?

MM:

Oh, yes. This is a good story. So I'm not even in graduate school. As I said, I had a bachelor's degree, and that was a little remarkable in the early years. I graduated from college in 1971 and then did several kinds of nursing at the hospital, and at one point I thought I really wanted to get a master's. I wanted to be not normal. I wanted to be a little bit different, have a little edge. Even before I had any idea to go to graduate school, the community struggled a little bit to put things on. At the end of the summer season, the Fenimore House – it was called the Fenimore House, not museum. The room called the ballroom, which is the big one just to the right, was not an exhibit space – it was an auditorium. There was this lecture series on a variety of topics. Sunday afternoons, maybe. One was on the history of Bassett Hospital. I thought the hospital was very interesting. I might have mentioned to you that when I talked to you the other day that we selected Bassett because it was a teaching hospital. I knew very little other than it was a teaching hospital. More of it unfolded for me as I began to practice. It had unusual things like 24-hour time, so it was 14:00 instead of 2:00 pm, and there were other elements that made it stand apart. So it was very, very unusual. I thought, “How did this happen?” I would occasionally go to nursing meetings or meetings [with] mostly physicians. I don't think that nurses, other than Cooperstown nurses, recognized that Bassett was special. I might be in a group with physicians and I might say that I was from Bassett Hospital. “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown? You're from there?” So I'm thinking, what's up with that?

Anyway, these things just stayed in my head. I don't know when I learned that the very first bone marrow transplant in the world was done in Cooperstown and the physician who did it won the Nobel Prize for medicine. Now, not while he was at Bassett, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas moved to Seattle, where a big bone marrow center was and still is. He continued the work that he started in Cooperstown. He won the prize while he was in Seattle, but I had a chance to meet him, and I interviewed him, even.

So all of these things were in my head about – why is this the way it is? There was a lecture from Dr. Charles Allen Ashley, who was president or executive or chief of the hospital. I’m in the audience. He gives what I thought was an interesting history, but it occurs to me there was not word one about nursing. After the lecture, there was a little reception, we were standing around having punch or something. My boss, who had just retired – she was the director of nursing, and she hired me. Anyway, we’re sipping tea and I said to her, “Alberta,” Alberta was her name, “Alberta, now that you’re retired, why don’t you write the history of nursing? Because there wasn't anything about nurses.” And we laughed. I guess I never forgot it – she didn't do it, and so some considerable years later, I decided that I was going to embark [on the project].

Now I had three kids still at home. One was applying for college at some point, and I remember being more worried about his deadlines, his application deadlines than mine. My husband was a full-time worker and he owned his own business. The evenings were spent in his office where he did some of the paperwork. So it was a busy household, but I went part time and the hospital had a tuition reimbursement program. What a value that was. It was really a promissory note, so you signed somewhere that you would stay at Bassett. I wasn't going anywhere, so it was no big deal. At that time, they were really only three opportunities to get a master's in nursing: Syracuse University, which is two hours west; Binghamton, which is two hours south; and Russell Sage, two hours east. Russell Sage did not require GREs [Graduate Record Examination]. I heard something about how they don't predict a student's ability at the master's level. I was happy about that. Then I'm thinking two hours – that's lost time. And my time is precious, right? Russell Sage was the only one who had these courses that were given as what they called institutes. You could take a three-credit course. It only required, I don't know, four trips for the whole semester. You went Friday, Saturday and Sunday – something like that. That appealed to me because I saw this two hours back and forth as just dead time. That's why I chose Russell Sage. At that time, the hospital paid the entire tuition and books. The library was wonderful – the medical library at the hospital. I counted on it helping me, and it could get me journals at that time. I don't know where they got it, but they were hard copy journals. Again, this was a long, long time ago.

So I went part time, so it took me four years. Little by little I had this visual of a balance and all the credits that I still needed to take were here and over the four years, it went like this. My husband was very supportive. He was a good guy, so he never had any issue doing dishes, making a meal. For a liberated couple, we had a pretty gender specific assignment. He was a professional contractor, so I didn't have to change a light bulb or fix the toilet. Why would I? He knows how to do it. Now I have to and I have to struggle with what to do with the tool or what tool even to use. He was very supportive.

As I mentioned, I was desperate. I thought I would not make it with this thesis. That's I think how I how I got onto the topic. The problem was that my research professor was a quant jock. She was a quantitative – her work was all quantitative. This is qualitative.

[Phone buzzes. Short interruption.]

Over two years for me, anyway, at my pace of taking courses, you have this advancing [of] classes where you can do some of the work and get it graded and then begin to build on it. But my professor – a nurse scientist, nurse doctorate – we were not on the same page. It gave me some vexed time. I finally found an adviser who had done qualitative work, and so she was my mentor.

I was so into the regalia at graduation because I love ritual. I love it. I think it's so great for the human soul. Six months in advance, you order the regalia and pay for it. And here I was, I wasn't going to make it because I wouldn't have the work done. I remember going to some kind of an event close to the deadline and I saw my advisor. I said, “I'm not going to do it. I'm not. I can't make it. I can't make it.” She said, “You're so close. You're so close. This work has transformed you.” I'm sure she uses it a whole bunch of times to make you feel OK, you know?

Well, as I mentioned to you the other night, we were down to the wire and I told you about the Macintosh printer not doing a very good job. [MM asks about repeating previously discussed information.] The printer was ancient. It would only print ten pages at a time, and would take an hour. I slept on the couch and woke up every hour and queued the printer to do ten more pages. In the morning I went off to work and my husband, God love him, drove it to Russell Sage so that it got in under the wire. That night it so happened that my son, he went to Cornell and maybe school was close to being done, but he came with a whole bunch of fraternity buddies for dinner. I just remember that it was the first glass of wine I had had in a really long time while I struggled with this.

I'm so glad to have done it. I loved it. The best luck you can have is to love your thesis, and I never didn't love it. When I figured out the methodology, the hospital actually started in 1922, but then it stopped. It started again in 1927. I found two nurses from each of those decades, so I had 14 narrators. In addition to that, I read every single annual report from 1927 to 1991, when I finished this. That gave some background. I had a guided interview that I used on all of them. Like you, it was a gentle guide. Nurses would talk about other things, which was fine. Then, of course, I had to analyze it and had to transcribe it. Somehow the hospital found someone who would do this for me, thank God. So then analyzing all that data and putting the answers together, over the time. So I loved it, and no one else had written it. In fact, no one knew – to my knowledge – it wasn't known that Bassett Hospital had a training school for nurses. If you'd ask anybody, they wouldn't have known it, but as I mentioned, in the early 20th century, it was standard. The Thanksgiving Hospital, which is now the Thanksgiving Home, had a nurse's training school. It happened that one of my narrators went to the Thanksgiving Hospital Training school for nurses.

When Bassett opened up the first time, the Thanksgiving Hospital closed. These student nurses were sort of stuck. I don't know the details, but I imagine that the Bassett Hospital said, “OK, well, we'll absorb these students and we'll get them graduated.” This woman that I interviewed, she had a certificate, and she showed it to me. Her graduation certificate that says the Bassett Hospital Training School for Nurses. Nobody knew that there was a moment in time, a couple of years, maybe a year and a half, when these student nurses were adopted by Bassett Hospital because there was no more Thanksgiving Hospital, so we graduated them. Then that was done. The school never existed again, because by that time, they were thinking that university-based nurses were better for the hospital.

They were early adopters of that, because I'm telling you that when I was entering practice and in 1970, a nurse with a college degree was still pretty unusual. Now we're talking about the 1920s. So that took a long time to really get enculturated.

So where was I that I was getting into that? Yes. The fact that then in the narrator's [interview], that's one of the things I learned, so she gave me that certificate. She was old and didn't care about it, and to me it was a treasure. There's a museum term called “Found in Collection” – you're familiar with it. So, I had it framed. Ellen Tillapaugh, a friend of mine – she's the mayor of Cooperstown – but she's also a graduate of the CGP [Cooperstown Graduate Program]. She's a paper conservator now. She matted and framed it, and I gave it to the hospital, because that was a piece of history that was not known. That's a small little bit that was not known, but the whole nursing story – nobody talked about it.

I told you about the bone marrow. That happened in the 1950s. Also, to do that bone marrow work required something called whole body radiation, which was not known. So briefly, the experiment was two twins. One had leukemia. They took bone marrow from the healthy twin and then radiated the leukemic twin, the whole body, and then gave the leukemic twin the healthier bone marrow. Some of those twins died, some made it. Of course, they’ve built on that now. Interestingly, my husband died from lymphoma and he had a bone marrow transplant. It was his own bone marrow that got lost[washed?]. It's just interesting. The fact that the hospital knew a lot about whole body radiation in the 1950s when what was called the Red Scare – Russia was going to take us over and torture us and drop the atomic bombs so we'd all die – the fact that Bassett in Cooperstown knew something about whole body radiation and its effects was very appealing, attractive to the U.S. government. The hospital got a chunk of federal dollars because of what they knew. That and the bone marrow, all the doctors published lots of scientific papers based on this. None of the nurses published. And so why? You'll hear me discuss it.

The American Journal of Nursing began publishing in 1900. This is 50 years later. Why didn't the nurses submit these articles? Well, I don't know the answer for sure, but nurses were women largely, and no mentor at the hospital with a wide view could have said to Nurse Jo Blow or Josephine Blow, “What you're learning about these patients – nobody knows, so you should write it up.” Because in fact, nobody knew how to take care of these patients. They went by the seat of their pants. They used their logic, their intelligence, and their knowledge of nursing and science and worked closely with the doctors. You'll see me talk about it [in my master’s thesis]. I was able to at least lift up some of those stories from those nurses who had taken care of those patients.

That was thrilling when I finished. Maybe I had a better cover, but I wrapped it in big fat red ribbon bow and put it on the desk of my boss, who was the vice president for nursing as a thank you. I mean, the hospital paid for my entire master's degree. And this was a gift to them to have the nursing story.

John Davis, you may know of him. Dr. John Davis wrote the history of Bassett. He's well known as the Bassett historian. He actually, with my permission, used stuff out of my thesis, giving me credit. When I knew that he was going to do this work, I said, “John, make sure you tell the nursing story.” Because it is a physician-centric organization. Many hospitals are. I'm not saying that nurses played as important a role as the physicians, but we certainly can be partners. I'm not disappointed with how he wrote the book. That's my master's story.

[TRACK 2, 26:23] – Working as a Nurse and Presenting at Professional Conferences

LT:

We sort of got into it, but can you talk a little bit more about your experience as a nurse?

MM:

Sure. I worked while I was still in college. There was some kind of thing with the state Education Department that if you had some level of credits, you could become licensed as a practical nurse. I worked while were married, before we had children, before I got out of college for a year or so. We lived in Rockland County, as I said, of a northern suburb, and it was a commute. I worked at Nyack Hospital, which is very near where we lived, as a practical nurse here and there. I don't have a distinct memory of it, but after graduation, then I'm a registered nurse. You have to take a licensing examination from the New York State Education Department and I passed, so I practiced then as a registered nurse at Nyack Hospital. It didn't take long. Again, the nurse with a bachelor's degree, people took notice. Nurses in organizations took notice. Very young, and probably not skilled enough, I was promoted to be a nurse. They called them Head Nurses. I ran a floor that was like two thirds this unit and one third that unit. I learned a lot about leadership and a lot about my values.

I guess because my parents were leaders, I had some leadership skills, but I surely didn't have a lot of nursing knowledge. Lucky for me, the Rockland County Community College was up and running. Adult women, largely whose kids were in high school by that time, went off and in four semesters they were registered nurses. I mentioned earlier the two pathways when I was in high school, and by this time there was a third pathway that is an associate degree, only two years. But these women were so smart because they had managed families, they had managed contractors, and they were so mature. I just recall going down the hall when I had a question or an issue. I wanted what I called a nursing consultation. When I left there, they gave me a charm and it has the [words] “nursing consultation” on it because that was my phrase. Maybe that was unusual, but I was not skilled enough. I did have leadership abilities and I did have the bachelor's degree, so that artificially lifted me up.

I get out of college in 1971, by 1973 we're renting an apartment in a junkyard. It was a sweet little apartment. I have very warm memories, because we were just married. We had no money. I remember before we were married, Dennis was living there because he got this job with the daily newspaper. He didn't have any money. He borrowed from me. I forced him to borrow from me. I may have had 200 bucks in the bank – he borrowed it. We spent a Saturday together getting his apartment ready and, frankly, a little in my heart of hearts, I'm a little disappointed because he's ready to buy stuff from a…

[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

… junk store, and I'm young. That's not what I had in mind. I had an idealized view and everything would be perfect, and he's getting stuff from the junk store, which doesn't match and is old. I remember this very well – we spent the day trying to get his apartment pulled together. He came home from Vietnam with a very high end stereo system. I forget all the details, but it was high, high end. The soldiers can get it for very little money from the PX [Post Exchange]. I'm hungry, I'm disappointed, [and] I'm really feeling miserable because this is what we're going to live in, in the middle of a junkyard. We bought a chicken from the grocery store, a bottle of wine and probably some potatoes. I'm in the kitchen trying to make dinner, and soon the kitchen has the smell of chicken coming out of the oven. Dennis, in the meantime, has set up his stereo and there's beautiful music. Suddenly my spirits are lifted and I see the whole poverty thing in a different light.

We never really got good looking stuff with the house, but the apartment ended up being quite interesting. He bought 200 carpet scraps. They found a carpet store, [and] sometimes there [are] samples, rectangles, and sometimes there are pieces that came off a job, and he sewed them together. Our living room was wall-to-wall [carpet], but it was literally sewn together, pieces of pieces, and it was an amazing look of different scraps. Sometimes you'd have shag and sometimes you didn't, and then the colors – but it was remarkable, and it made our place special.

We had Jim. He was born in 1971. As I said, [Dennis] was city editor of the daily newspaper, and it was part of the Gannett chain, which is pretty famous now and was rising up. He began to feel that the organization was not paying the reporters enough to get good work. He saw some of the seasoned journalists who were drunks and their marriages had failed, so he didn't think he wanted to continue to be a journalist, [and] he thought he would want to write novels. Okay, so let's do that. I'm a nurse. I can bring in an income. Well, do you want to rent some more? No. We didn't want to rent. We wanted to buy a house. OK, so let's buy a house, which is a chunk of money. Where do we go? OK. Well, I would like to go to a teaching hospital. I think I briefly spoke about that the other day with you. From Rockland County – this is pre-Internet – we got this book that looks like the Yellow Pages of teaching hospitals in the United States. We looked around for all of the teaching hospitals within a reasonable radius of New York City, because, as I said, I'm still in college when I'm married. All my siblings [were there], and Dennis loved my parents, and he was like an older son to them, so he didn't want to be too far [from New York City].

As I said, we looked at teaching hospitals and we ended up in Cooperstown. My husband was not one to break laws or break rules, but as a signal of how attractive we found Cooperstown, we came in the summer. It was spring. It was spring because there [were] these little wooden slats over bushes in people's yards, and I had never seen them before, because in a city, you don't get that much snow. Up here, you do it so people protect their tender bushes with these little tents of wood. It was late spring, because they were still up and I had to ask what they were. It's a lovely, lovely day. I had the interview. Dennis sat out on the lawn – I know exactly the spot – with our little son. Maybe we're going to head back. He says, “Well, what if we just stay overnight?” Which was not our plan. So essentially, we played hooky. Instead of going to work, both of us, we stayed another day. I think we rented bikes and took a ride around. That's how attractive Cooperstown was.

I apply, I get a job, and I started on September 10th in 1973, and my salary was $4.40 an hour. 1973. I'm not a brand new graduate, I have two years of experience. That's not a lot, but it was, I'm sure, a standard for the rural area. Nyack Hospital, where I came from, I was making twice or two and half times that. So this was a big change. But we bought this handy man special for $19,500 – not very much, even then. The place was shabby. My parents helped us move in and my mother wept at the look of it, and we were naive. We had arranged for this rented truck on these particular dates that fit into work schedules. If we had been smarter, we would have turned around at the door because a house that is supposed to be broom clean, does have to be polished, and there was junk all over. There were dirty diapers in the garbage with flies buzzing around. There were chicken bones in the stove, not the smooth top.

My mother was so upset, and we just had no time to say to the realtor, “Hey, get this cleaned up. We'll be back in two days.” We couldn't do that, so we cleaned it up ourselves, and my mother was so upset. So, little by little, my husband used his contracting skill.

I guess I never told you about that, but when he was in high school and college, he worked for the next door neighbor who was a contractor. He knew what to do with a hammer, and he just got really, really good at fixing the house little by little, and righting it because it wasn't at right angles. It was a great house. I've been back in it in the past 18 months, and it was quite nostalgic for me to back to be back in that place. It wasn't perfect, but we were there for nine years.

We had a second son there, and then our third son was born. Our first son was born at Nyack Hospital because we were living in Rockland County, so we just went down to the city, but our second and third sons were born here in Cooperstown.

You were asking about the hospital. My first job was on a unit that was medical and surgical, and I was very inexperienced, but I know how to ask a question. Little by little, I got more skillful. If you have a fairly good reputation, and you're a reasonable person, then you make a good request, you can apply to go elsewhere. So soon, I felt I wanted to be an obstetrical nurse. I moved to the obstetrical unit and learned that practice. I was there when there was this change in the model called Family Centered and Birthing Practice. When I was a young kid and my mom was having babies, dad was not there. He came home to take care of us, but he wasn't welcome in the delivery room. Things were probably different when your parents had you, and your dad might have been there, which is quite standard now. This was moving in to the birthing center. All the while, we called [it] the obstetric unit. It was fun for me to welcome the dads and the little kids, when there was visitation they wore little hospital gowns – I loved that. And I loved helping women recognize that being pregnant was not an illness: it was an altered physiologic state. I loved the normalcy. I was pregnant myself on the obstetrical unit. I loved being a good example of [being] healthy, hardworking – not a delicate flower. I loved the teaching opportunity to get families engaged.

I talked about not being normal, so here's a funny story on me. When I was younger, and less wise, I had the idea that boys and girls were born sort of neutral. It was the culture that feminized or masculinized them, and I didn't think that was right. So there was a tradition of putting pink blankets on all the baby girls and blue blankets and all the baby boys. I was assigned to the nursery one day and I had the idea I was going to shake this up a little bit, so I altered the colors of the blankets. At that time, the babies were staying in the nursery. Sometimes we even fed them, to give mom a rest, and changed them, got them ready for the doctor to examine, and then bundled them up in these little plastic rolling carriages and brought them to the mom. Well, not only did the parents object to what I had done, but so did my nurse colleagues. They thought I was quite radical and they scolded me, so I never did it again. I am smarter now, I think I recognize that it's not that way. I think that our little infants, are born with some pre-programing, actually. It's just a funny mistake on my part, but I was bold enough to make that terrible mistake [laughs].

I really love the idea of a midwife. I love [it] because that's a nursing practice, and here you have this opportunity to be with women in labor. It's so intimate and it's so enduring because it lasts a long time. The chief of OB at the time was Dr. Barnes. I said to Dr. Barnes, “I have this little proposal that, Dr. Barnes, I'd like to be a midwife here. And if you send me away and train me to be midwife, I'll come back and work for you forever.” He said, “There’ll never be a nurse midwife here.” OK, I’m back in place.

Well, fast forward to the teaching hospital. They have to meet some standards. So the obstetrical experience for medical students or resident physicians was a certain number of deliveries, at least, among many other characteristics. Our numbers of births dropped below that threshold, so the Obstetrical Department at Cooperstown could no longer have medical students or medical residents deliver the baby, so suddenly the obstetricians are coming in the middle of the night to deliver babies. Suddenly, midwives are like sliced bread. They are that good, and it's just a funny story. Again, I was ahead of my time. For a long time, there was this wonderful midwife practice that was very collaborative and wonderful for birthing moms.

I’m thinking of another example of what might not be normal. In 1970, when we were married, everything was white for the bride, and I didn't do that. I went for a bouquet of multicolored flowers and instead of a veil, I had a very short veil, but I had a wreath of the same multicolored flowers. I'm so glad to do things a little bit unusually, and I didn't go with the standard sort of wedding shtick. Dennis and I made the bread that we ate, the communion wafers that were used. We made our own vows. The reception was in a nursing home. Believe it or not, I had worked in this nursing home when I was in high school, close to my parents’ home, and they had an auditorium and they were very willing to let us use it. They were delighted I was getting married and all that stuff. So as I look back, I love the fact that I'd been a little bit abnormal, a little bit off the beaten path. Sometimes it's been nutty, like this experiment with the changed blanket colors. I'm sort of proud of that different route that I take sometimes – and still do, on occasion.

I couldn't be an obstetrical nurse, I couldn't be a midwife. I continued there. I had our second baby. The rotation, which was pretty standard in the obstetrical unit, was hard on me. I thought, I'll do anything for a Monday to Friday job. Then a Monday to Friday job opened up that was a cancer program nurse with a particular focus on breast cancer. There was a grant that our hospital or the cancer surgeon [had] gotten, so that was the beginning of a wonderful career I had in cancer nursing that I loved, and was the best time. I just loved learning. I grew as a professional, collaborative practice with the doctors, and I sort of pushed the borders a little bit. There are lots of different ways and from cancer nursing, I began to make presentations at national meetings by submitting an abstract and getting it accepted and speaking before a national audience with two thousand people in them. I grew a lot in those rather independent roles and I think I mentioned to you about discharge, but I think the discharge planning program came after the cancer, because I might have mentioned the reimbursement system changed, and that made me think about nursing being very much a part of how the hospital could survive in this different environment. I moved to what's called a discharge planning program or I changed the name to continuing care. And I loved that, too. I did that for about nine years, and then the hospital was enfolding these small rural hospitals. I asked if there was an opening in the hospital at Cobleskill. I went over there as a chief nurse, and that was another learning experience for me to be in a chief nurse position in a small rural hospital that was struggling. I learned a lot.

My mom and dad retired and came to the village and my mom had a stroke. It seemed that it was time for me to come back to Cooperstown. I missed Cooperstown, the hospital here. I got a job back in the hospital as a nurse manager of two units, which is very, very challenging. There were about 70 employees under me, and I liked that. I liked everything I've done, I've just been very fortunate. When I was done doing that, there was a new position offered to me by the nursing vise president that was brand new and would be responsible for professional practice. In my view, the job was like three feet wide, and you can't do three feet wide of work in 40 hours a week. What I could do was the stuff that I liked to do or that I judged was the most valuable. I loved that – it was lifting up nursing and promoting professional practice, and something called shared governance. The data show that when nurses have a voice in their practice, that patient outcomes are better, because nurses are more satisfied. Anything that lifted up professional practice was my job. I retired from there. That was my career.

LT:

You touch on your interest in women's issues a little bit in what you've talked about. How did that shape your participation in advocacy organizations?

MM:

Well, nurses are largely women. I think somewhere in my growth as a professional registered nurse, I saw over and over where nurses were second-class citizens. It was not too much before I got to Cooperstown, and this was true all over health care that nurses stood when the doctors entered the nurses’ station. Whether they stood in respect or like you would stand up if the Queen of England came, or the pope or the president, or they gave the doctors their chairs. I saw episodes of nurses being put down. I was an early adopter of the women's movement to lift up women in the same way that I wanted to lift up nursing, because in fact, most of the nurses are women. The last I checked, about 5 percent of nurses were men. I hope that's higher now. I hope it is, because it should be 50/50, just like our nation. I haven't been like a radical activist about it, but I have been attentive to issues where women don't take the opportunity step up. It was mostly within my nursing profession, because I mentioned about my growth. Nobody invited it, but I looked for opportunities to present nursing, and it happened to be that I was the individual to do it, like presenting at a national meeting. “Anybody got any problem with my submitting an abstract?” I had to do all the work, which was vexing and then scary. Scary, scary. This was the Oncology Nursing Society, and they recorded the talks, and you could actually get a copy. I was very eager to get the copy of my first presentation. When I first listened to it, I thought, “Well, there's something wrong with this tape, because it was, all wobbly.” [laughs] I thought it was the tape’s fault. Well, it was me. I was that nervous, but I felt that if I could make a path for nurses to see all the potential of their wisdom, intelligence and their science and their practice, then it would be better for nurses behind me. I've always loved doing that, sometimes in a scary way.

I was practicing with them, too, on call. There were several oncologists, but we had a relationship with a hospital in a practice group in Sullivan County, pretty far down. They were invited for the day to do something there. I don't know what prompted me, but I said, “Well, you know, can I come in? Could you work it out that I could speak to the nurses?” I don't know that they were really hearty in terms of support, but I put myself out there. I went along with them, and they had arranged for nurses. Then there was this opportunity to make a presentation and be recorded. It was the end of the day, and even the person who had set up the recording thing left, so I'm talking to an empty room. She left because it was the end of the day or something. Not because I bored her to tears, but that's how “robust” the response was. My own physician colleagues were not robust in their support of me doing it, but I pushed forward. This embarrassing thing happened, that they were eager to have me do it and record it, but not eager enough to stay. [laughs]

[TRACK 3, 23:25] – Advocacy and the League of Women Voters

So, advocacy. Beyond nursing, I can't identify women's advocacy that I have been active in, particularly in the community. I mentioned that in my retirement, of course, it's easier. I was an usher for the opera, even while I was working and had a family. There [were] some constraints that made it a little bit difficult. So when I stopped. And then when I retired, I said, “Well, do you still have these restraints?” They said “No, all you have to do is—” it was very easy. So I'm an usher. I'm involved in the community. I didn't want my retirement or my contributed hours of time, talent and treasure to be willy-nilly. I actually made a graph, and to my amazement and my satisfaction, I found there's some themes that I find myself willing and able to contribute to. One is spiritual, so it's the church. I'll work on church related things and food pantry I put underneath that – feeding the hungry, so to speak.

I am in a program at the hospital that is not very active called “No One Dies Alone.” There's an individual who is close to death and there's no family. A volunteer will come and sit with that individual. I'm particularly capable of doing it. I'm a nurse. I am pretty comfortable with death, the naturalness of that. I don't live too far. Sometimes I'll be willing to do two in the morning until four in the morning shift.

Then the environment, I contribute my time and energy on environmental issues. Then the arts. The usher, and I’m a member of the Fenimore [Art Museum] and [The] Farmers’ Museum and a member of the [Cooperstown] Art Association. I contribute and go to these events. I was happy to see that there was some thematic, which I call roofs under which my time was spent. Somehow I'm happy about that.

LT:

OK, I'm just going to ask you one more question to wrap up the interview. Could you talk a little bit about your participation with the League of Women Voters?

MM:

Yes, that happened when I was still living in Cherry Valley. We left Cherry Valley in 1982. So was pre-1982, too. It was the recycling. They were the local league in Cooperstown. I didn't know much about the League of Women Voters. My mother was not a member. I didn't know about it as I grew up, but they're recycling activities were very appealing to me. We were living close to nature, we had a garden. I found it very appealing to save the earth, to do the right thing, so I reached out and I became a member. It must have been pre-1982, which is a long time. I was a member, and with the league I remember someone saying to me that you can be a member and [be] active – sometimes when something happens, you have this high moment of activity, and then you're not very active, and then something else will happen that hits your brain as interesting. I don't remember much more except my engagement in the recycling effort.

There were maybe a hundred members. Again, I wasn't in any leadership position, so I wasn't paying rapt attention. I guess I was on a nominating committee for several years, and the action there was to go to someone's house. The chair of the nominating committee hosted us, and we thought about who we could nominate, and we made calls. “Hey, would you be willing to be a nominee for this position?” We worked for several years, and then we couldn't get anybody to do it. The membership waned and interest and commitment to the leadership positions waned.

By that time, I was a pretty seasoned professional and known in the community for just having been around kids at school. You get to know people. There was this…

[START OF TRACK 4, 0:00]

…group that got together to say, “Well, should we dissolve?” And individuals said, “No, no, no, we can't dissolve.” I don't know that I played a leadership role in this, it's a little blurry – I know I did play a leadership role at some point in figuring out, “OK, well, how will we be League going forward with these circumstances?” A group of members – men have been members of the league for decades, but it was a long time before we had many male members. The league members said, “Why don’t we sort of just take pieces of it? If you did this, and I'll do that, if you do this, Josie will do that.” We were kind of this loosely held organization that didn't do very much.

The backbone of League is registering voters, voter service, and having debates or candidates nights. We would run a debate for the village mayor or school board. Those continued even though we weren't doing much of anything. You can do so many things in the League even now with our larger numbers. We're not doing everything, but we are growing.

The meetings were pretty informal and we did the best we could with the human resource available. If people said, “I'll do it,” it got done, but if nobody said, “I'll do it,” it didn't get done. I agreed to be co-president with another individual, and that individual sort of faded. So I said, “OK, I'll be president, again. Self-appointed, not elected.” Then I just began to feel so guilty about how we were doing nothing. We were barely managing. Why should we call ourselves the League? So I reached out to the state and I said, “Look, we're in trouble.” I gave them the brief history, and I said, “We're not doing anything. Can you help us?”

I organized a meeting where the League people – and to my surprise, we were not the only league with this kind of trouble. [Phone alarm rings.] This might have been 10 years ago. Our society was similar, that other organizations were struggling in a similar way. Because productivity at work was hard for a lot of people, our society had changed a little bit. So I think it was for a phone conference, as it turned out.

That priest that I mentioned, Father Eric, who was so important to us. He got very, very sick. His abbot called me, and so I went urgently to him. My sister whom I mentioned, she hosted. I said, “It's all set up. Everything is here. Would you just come and meet and greet, and then get the phone and call this number?” The people at the state league were so responsive and they said, “You are not alone, and good for you. You've got so much going for you.” I mean, it was a lot of stuff coming out of their mouths that we wanted to hear, and may not have been truthful, but they made us feel like we were OK. That was the beginning of us feeling galvanized, that we could really do this. The fact that we weren't doing [these things] was okay. We were not alone. There were other larger leagues that were bigger than us and they weren't doing anything like we were doing. So we felt good.

I continued as president and I said, “OK, how do we make this more manageable?” We took the bylaws that were very formal and dense, and we simplified them. You know, what are we doing? Let's write it so that it's easy to be League, and so we simplified them. Then it began to grow. Then our politics changed in our environment, and people say they plan to do something. Our membership is on the rise. We've got close to 100 members. Then nobody would be president. In the bylaws that we wrote, it's two years in. I said to everybody, “Look, the clock is ticking, two years and I'm done. This is the term of office. We wrote this and I should be gone.”

We couldn't get someone to do it. So I look at another year. Then we tried again, and someone would be co-president. That was a new thing for us. I served for a year as co-president, and then the board thought of this model where you have like an overlap, so every year you have someone new. The old person goes off, and the new person has someone with experience. I don't know what that model's called, but we adopted that. At our annual meeting, I was done. We had a new co-president who joined the person I was co-president with. I'm no longer a leader. I will continue to work, especially in those service, because I know that and I am passionate about registering voters and organizing debates among candidates. That just happened in October, so I'm a plain old member.

LT:

Thank you so much. I'm going to go ahead – [TRACK 4 ENDS]

Duration

30:00 - Track 1
29:47 - Track 2
28:28 - Track 3
05:46 - Track 4

Bit Rate/Frequency

195 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 00:46 - Early Family Life
Track 1, 11:14 - Early Schooling and Applying to College
Track 1, 22:00 - Dennis Murray
Track 2, 05:53 - Nursing Education and Master's Thesis
Track 2, 26:08 - Working as a Nurse and Presenting at Professional Conferences
Track 3, 23:25 - Advocacy and the League of Women Voters

Files

Murray_Taylor_11.5.19_Photo2.jpg

Citation

Lauren Taylor, “Maureen Murray, November 05, 2019,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 26, 2021, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/396.