|The 8 interviews included in this collection were conducted for the Old Dominion University History course 495/595: "Recapturing Women's History: Local and National," taught by Dr. Dorothy Johnson in the Fall of 1982. Each interview includes a brief biographical sketch of the person interviewed and a typed transcript.|
Dr. Laura Morris was an active member of the medical community in Norfolk, Virginia. In addition to being a pediatrician, she served as medical director of Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, chief of Medical Services for the Norfolk Public School System, assistant director for the Norfolk Public Health Department, and Assistant Director of Admissions at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She was also very active in community organizations and activities. The interview discusses her family and educational background, her experiences as a physician, and her views on the changing role of women in medicine over the years. The interview includes a biographical sketch of Morris and a research paper on women physicians.
MILLER: Before we get into your medical career between 1945 and 1960, could you tell me a little about your background, more specifically what or who motivated you to become a physician?
MORRIS: It goes so far back into time that there was no 'who' in it. It was my own thoughts on the subject as much as anything else. I had an uncle who was a physician. I had a great-grandfather who was a physician. There are (also) other members of the family who are in the medical profession.
I knew one thing I didn't want to be, because my mother had said it was the worst profession in the world, and that was teaching. So, I didn't go into teaching. As I cast about it and thought about it, I felt that medicine was something that interested me. It (medicine) interested me from the time I was in elementary school. The class prophecy in my elementary school graduation (was that) I was a physician already. It goes way back. My original thinking was something like the boys who want to be policemen. I just wanted to be a doctor.
MILLER: As you see yourself today, which parent do you more closely resemble in attitudes and values?
MORRIS: I'm a combination of both of them. I had good parents who were very supportive of it (choice of professions), and never, in any way, indicated that there was anything exceptional in my going into medicine. My father thought it was great. My mother thought it was great. There was no difference of opinion about it at all. They supported me through medical school. So, they were really and truly in favor of it.
MILLER: What were your parents' attitudes toward education?
MORRIS: I've said I was lucky, and I think that is where I was lucky. My father felt that women should be better educated than men --formally educated. Because he felt that women married, stayed home, and took care of the children, therefore, they should have more formal education. They had less opportunity to develop themselves in exposure to other people after they were married. He felt that it was very important that they have a great deal of information and knowledge in order to be able to rear children more adequately. That's the reason he felt that way about it. I don't think he was not thinking about not having children, he was thinking about having them.
MILLER: What attitudes, at that time, did you have concerning marriage and raising a family? Were they in your future places?
MORRIS: Vaguely, probably not very much. I felt (like) a rather unattractive looking woman who had very little attention from the opposite sex. So, in being a primitist I said , 'Well, if it never happens, it never happens.' I didn't even worry about it. If it happens, it happens. I'm not going to waste my time worrying about it. one way or the other. That's how I felt about that (marriage and a family). I didn't have anything against it, that's (just) how I felt.
MILLER: That's interesting. Were your mother and your father, their relationship, was it an egalitarian relationship?
MORRIS: Yes, very much so. My father was a firm believer in women being, as I said, educated. He treated my mother by giving her an adequate allowance to run the house and take care of the children, and there were five of us. We were not a small family. He thought that it was her business to take care of it. She paid the insurances. She paid the taxes. She took care or all kinds of financial problems. He supported her adequately. In other words, he gave her what for them was a very adequate allowance to do it with. But, he didn't ever question her about it. It was her business.
MILLER: That's interesting. What did he (the father) do for a living?
MORRIS: He had a business. He manufactured inks for the graphic arts. It you don't know what the graphic arts are, that is printing, engraving, lithography etc. Those are all graphic arts, etchings and so on. They all take different kinds of inks. He manufactured about seven or eight different kinds of inks. No writing fluid. We did have writing fluid in those days, which is what we call ink, but it's not ink, it's writing fluid. Ink is a mixture of varnish and pigment. Or course it's applied with a machine, not by hand writing. So, it has to have considerable amount of body to it.
MILLER: It seems like you took an interest in his work. Did you ever go to work with him?
MORRIS: Oh sure, we (brothers and sisters) always worked in the office at one time or another. I worked in the office mostly as a ... Of course, I never learned to type. So, I was about as worthless as anybody could be. They would give me jobs like posting the checks in the morning and getting the mail opened. If there were letters that had to be answered, they said that I should compose the letter and answer it. If there were questions asked about different products I was to see that the answers went out and were accurate. I just did kind of general handy work in the office.
As I said, I never really learned to type so that put me in the category of being absolutely worthless. I did that on purpose later on (laughingly), and I've never regretted not learning it. Because women are always secretaries. You found that out already. I don't care what organization you're in, you're a secretary, and then you're supposed to type. So, I was a secretary, but I never learned to type!
MILLER: After you had decided to become a physician, what do you recall were the reactions of your family and closest friends in regard to your career goal?
MORRIS: I guess it came on so gradually nobody ever paid any attention to it. I had always wanted to be a physician. I'm like all those other poor, little applicants that come in and say they always wanted to be a doctor, and that's the reason for wanting to be one, and it isn't! But of course, the fact that I was talking about it when I was ten, eleven years old, meant that everyone in the family knew that I wanted to be one. There was no point at which I was not going to be one (a doctor), and then I was going to be one. I was always going to be one!
MILLER: Did you do some extensive planning while you were growing up to reach your goal?
MORRIS: I wouldn't say extensive planning, but certainly I planned it. I knew I wanted to do it (become a doctor). I knew what I had to do, which was to get good grades if I wanted to get into medical school. So, I went to college. I simply made up my mind I was going to turn in a good performance, and I did.
One of your questions was, 'How many schools did you apply to?' I applied to two. I was put on the waiting list at Cornell. It was a little different in those days. I don't think they were quite as well organized. However, there were many, many applicants for every position. Perhaps not quite as many as there are today but plenty anyway. Columbia had, I think, around 1,500 applicants, and they took in 120 students. I applied to Cornell and was put on the waiting list there. I was interviewed at Christmas time. I thought. 'Well, that's a stupid thing to wait for them to pick me up on a waiting list.' So, in January I put in my application for Columbia. At Easter time, I was at Elmira which is upstate with a 250 mile trip down to New York City to be interviewed. One week later I was accepted at Columbia. That was the end of my application (procedure). I didn't waste anymore time on it, because I thought Columbia was adequate. I didn't worry about trying to go somewhere else.
MILLER: That's unusual. My research has been turning up that it was so difficult for a woman, at that period, to be accepted in medical school and in general.
MORRIS: Well, there were very few medical schools that didn't accept women in the days that I'm talking about, this is 1931. That's (almost) fifty-two years ago. There were very few schools that didn't accept women. Harvard was one of the few. Most of all the other medical schools accepted women. Almost from the time we began to have medical schools of any caliber... I've always conceded that they (the University of Pennsylvania) were number one and Columbia was number two. By 1931, almost all of them accepted women.
There was a school up in Geneva, New York, that was Elizabeth Blackwell who was accepted there. That's no longer a medical school, because they've moved their medical school down state into New York City. It was part of the New York Hospital for Women and Children that they finally ended up with.1
There were two of us in my class in college who wanted to go to medical school. We were both accepted into medical school. There had been one (woman) the year before, and she was accepted, not in our class but in our school. It was much as it is today. I would say that was not that different.
MILLER: So, you feel those facts are exaggerated in some way?
MORRIS: Yes. I think women hid behind it sometimes. Don't hide behind thinking that you can't do it, just go out and do it!
MILLER: What were your personal expectations toward your medical education? What did you feel that you had to do in order to obtain that goal?
MORRIS: I had to work! I never anticipated that it would be a fun, fun thing to do in the sense of being something that you do lightly without a great deal of effort. I always knew it would take real application. Those are the kinds of things I never thought about. I just went ahead and did it. I didn't waste my time worrying about it.
I wasn't self-conscious about being a physician. So you understand what I'm saying? I wasn't thinking about myself. I was simply deciding I wanted to be a doctor. My family didn't stop me. I think there were some women who were stopped because of that kind of thing (lack of support). I might have been stopped if I had had a different kind of a family. I don't know though, I'm kind of stubborn! When I decide to do something, I work for it! Just like getting into medical school. I wouldn't let that stop me. I'm going to get in.
Again, I was very fortunate. I had good parents who were really very much aware of their children. They had their weaknesses, they wouldn't have been human if they hadn't. My brother talks about they never paid us enough compliments and didn't boost our egos enough. I think we both have pretty healthy egos despite our not having been given a lot of praise for it.
My father's attitude toward A's as getting top grades was, 'It's no more than I expect of you.' (He) never (commented), 'Well, that's good.' Males and females (were treated) precisely the same. There was no difference between the way boys and girls were reared. We were reared in exactly the same fashion. We were expected to perform well whether we were boys or girls2. We were not expected to do the identical thing.
Everybody in our family plays a musical instrument, but they don't play the same musical instrument. I play the piano, my brother played the cello. My next brother played the cornet and the piano. My younger sister played the piano. My youngest sister, again, the cornet and the piano. We were expected to perform on a musical instrument. We were expected to enjoy music. We were taken into New York to the opera and to the concerts from the time we were able to sit up on the seat. That was the kind of thing my family enjoyed. My mother sang, sang very well. My father always supported her in anything she wanted to do. So, we got a healthy dose of music. But as far as being any difference between the two (between the treatment of males and females), my brother learned to cook just as I did.
MILLER: That's wonderful. It really is.
MORRIS: I can't claim any credit for it. I'm saying I was fortunate, and I meant it. I can't say that it was anything but fortune.
MILLER: How many other women were in your class in medical school?
MORRIS: There was supposed to be ten percent women.2 That would have been twelve. We actually started out with ten because two of them that were selected and accepted at Columbia , at the last minute, pulled out for one reason or another. Then the next year they came in. So, the next year's class had fourteen (female students) at admission time.
One person flunked out. She was one whose father had insisted she go into medicine. He was a physician and wanted her to be one too. She had no choice in the matter. She flunked out.
One of them transferred to Women's Medical School. She ultimately graduated from Women's Medical School. I think she was teetering on the edge of not making it at Columbia. (Thus they decided it would be better for her to withdraw).
One person went to St. Louis University or Washington University, I'm not sure. But, anyway, she went to St. Louis, Missouri.
We picked up somebody from the class ahead of us. She had had her first year at Columbia. Then her husband, whom she married at the end of that first year, was at Harvard with a fellowship in business or something. She went up to Boston to be with him, but Harvard wouldn't accept her. Her father was on the faculty at Columbia, so they made an arrangement that when he (her husband) completed his masters degree they would come back to New York City, and she would finish up at Columbia. We picked her up subsequently.
We ended up with six students, six women in our class. There were ninety-six (students) altogether. So there had been tremendous attrition in the class. The women didn't do nearly as badly as the men did. There were 120 in the class. We lost forty people at the end of the first year. That's how they did it. They cut the sizes back to less than one hundred. So, actually we had only lost two. We had one who was taken sick and she had to drop back. We had three who I think were academically weak. Two of them made it through medical school with one kind of help or another, either transferring to another school, or one of them repeated her first year and made it through.
MILLER: So, how many women actually graduated with you when you graduated?
MORRIS: We actually graduated (with) six (women). With all of this confusion over some of them dropping out and that sort of thing, we ended up (with) six. They all practice medicine. None of them dropped it. Four of them were married, two of them never married. Their marriage didn't stop them from working.
MILLER: How were you treated by your fellow classmates and professors?
MORRIS: Always you had one or two ... There was one professor, who's a well known one, if you were in the medical field you would have heard his name. He helped to edit one of the famous textbooks of medicine. He was totally opposed to women in medicine. He started off his class by saying, 'I don't approve of women in medicine.' That's the last he said it. But, he made the comment then that he would not give you anything more than a B. If you made a B that was equivalent to an A in anybody else's class. (The women were told) not to expect an A, because there would be no A's given.
MILLER: For women or for men?
MORRIS: For women. The men got the As. I got a B incidentally. Then in our senior year, he (the professor)had been friendly with this woman who was a medical technician at the medical school. He had helped to support her at Johns Hopkins. Her senior year was the same as my senior year at Columbia. She came back and had a selective or something at Columbia. He subsequently married her. After that, he changed his tune. She practiced. She was a little older but not that much older. She was perhaps thirty when she graduated from medical school. But, she went ahead and practiced. That was the end of his (the professor's) fuss about women.
In the hospital when I was a resident in pediatrics, there was a surgeon who made no bones about it, he had no use for women in medicine. He happened to be a very good friend of my uncle's who was a physician. He (the surgeon) came up to me one day and said, 'Well, I just don't approve of women being in medicine." I said, 'Well that is your privilege Dr. Robilard. I'm not going to fight with you about it. I'm here and I'm here to stay. Then I had an occasion to take care of a patient of his. He had been in family practice and then went into surgery. So, he still had some families that he took care of. This was a boy four years old who had meningitis. I happened to be the only one who could do the spinal taps. In those days we did spinal taps every eight hours. I was the only person who could get into that poor, little boy's spinal column. The order under Dr. Robilard was that Dr. Gaetjens (Dr. Morris' maiden name) is going to do all of the spinal taps on my patients. Nobody else would do it. Now I never saw him until the patient was getting better. I never ran into him (because I was doing the spinal taps at eight, four, and midnight. I was giving it every eight hours. He made his rounds usually around 10:30 or 11:00. So, I always missed him. I hadn't seen him until it was all over. At the end of it he said, "Well, I guess women are good for something." I said, "Well, thanks a lot. You mean we're handy uh. He laughed and said, "Yes, I guess you have got some ability with your hands." Not meaning me (in reference to 'you'), but meaning women. I said, "Well, has it ever occurred to you that there might be a little brain behind the hands that do the work ?" He said, "Oh, don't make me crawl." So, I didn't pursue it. But, he was always perfectly polite to me. There was never anything ugly in what he had to say. But he made it plain that he just didn't approve of women (in medicine).
That's about all I ever saw. Other than that, I can't say I really ever met up with a lot of prejudice. Again I suppose the same thing about my not being self-conscious about what I've done. I made up my mind to do it, my family supported me, I went ahead and did it, and I never ran into any real roadblocks. (This) probably made me less sensitive to that kind of discrimination. I just don't pay any attention to that. I didn't know it existed.
MILLER: Did you ever feel isolated in your professional work?
MORRIS: No, not until I came to Virginia. In Virginia it wasn't my being a female that made me isolated. Of course, I went to another medical school other than UVA or MCV. It took me a long time to realize it. But one day I was talking to one of my friends here, who was one of the practicing physicians who had graduated from Johns Hopkins. Now both he and I thought we had graduated from pretty first-rate schools. Columbia and Johns Hopkins are top-notch schools in the medical area, far above UVA and MCV! We didn't even know MCV existed. That's the truth. We didn't even know there was such a school. UVA we only knew was only a place where all the 'rum-pots' held out. It was just not a good school. It was very poor when I was going through school. So, we had no great feelings about those great schools.
Virginians think that (USIA and MCV) are the end. So, he (the physician friend) said , 'You know Laura, did you ever have the feeling that you were really just kind of put off to one side when you went to the medical society meetings?' I said, 'Holy Toledo, do I ever!' I can remember when I just joined, I used to sit down, and they would just isolate me totally. There would be three seats in front of me empty and two seats on either side of me (empty) and three seats in back of me (empty). I figured that was because I was a woman. (I said) 'But, you're not a woman, you're a man.' You feel like you've been isolated? He (the physician) said, 'Yes, you know what I think it might be?' I said, 'No, what do you think it might be?' He said, 'I think it might be because we went to the wrong medical schools.' I said, 'Yeh, ha, ha.' He said, 'Whenever they would ask which school you went to, they assume you're going to say UVA or MCV. They are all inclined to say to you, because they figure your age and so on, 'Did you know so and so?' If they had gone to UVA and you said MCV, that didn't stop them because they always had friends that went to MCV at the same time. I said, 'I never thought about that. So, when they would talk to us and said, 'Which school did you go to?' And you would say, 'Columbia.' The conversation just (smacked her hand on the desk). They had nothing to say further. They couldn't say, 'Did you know so and so?' It just finished the conversation. He said, 'Yeh, I finally figured it out. I've had a hard time with it for about ten years figuring out what the problem was.' That wasn't intended to be discriminating against women. It was discrimination based on the provincialism of the Virginians.
MILLER: During your four years at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, do you recall having any female role models? If so, what impact did they have upon you?
MORRIS: There were several of the faculty members. Not too much impact, because you go your own way. You're not going to imitate somebody else. One of them was Dr. Frantz. She had married and had children.
There was not the meeting of the minds between the faculty and the student body there is today, as there is here (at Eastern Virginia Medical School). The faculty was large. There were about 450-500 faculty members. There were about 425 or so students. There were far more faculty than there were students. Even as there are here if you count our community faculty. We have many more faculty members than we do students. But here we make an effort to get the faculty and the students together.
So, basically I would say no, I wasn't one for imitating. I knew what I wanted to do, and I did it my own way. I've always done things that I've thought were right. I've always made my own decisions about what I'm going to do. I never thought to call on somebody else. I've admired people, but I never thought that I needed to follow them.
Your life falls out in patterns. I think you have to be sufficiently sure of yourself. You have to be ready to be called upon and stand up and be counted. I don't think you can imitate anybody else or use somebody's way to do things. (Laughingly) Do it your own way.
MILLER: After graduating from medical school, were you required to do an internship?
MORRIS: Oh certainly. I had an internship, and then I had a residency in pediatrics following that. These were rather scarce in those days.3 It was 1935. This country was very poor in those days. It was the end of the Depression. Many things had gone by the board, hospitals among them. The facilities were not good as they had been and not nearly as good as they are today. There were more medical students coming out every year than there were places to put them. So, it was difficult to get good residencies and good internships.
MILLER: How many programs did you have to apply for?
MORRIS: I only applied for a couple. I took the examinations at Bellevue, not with any intent to stick with Bellevue, because I didn't especially like Bellevue.4 Bellevue had lots of patients. It's a 2,000 bed hospital, so it's (very large), at least it was in those days, I think it still is. However, there were so many people being taught there. You see all three medical schools, Columbia, New York University, and Cornell had a service at Bellevue. Then there was an open service. So, there were four different sets of medical students, plus interns, plus residents, until everyone was falling on top of each other. I felt that you probably got too specialized a service. I wasn't really terribly gung-ho for getting a residency there.
I went to a small hospital in Brooklyn, Lutheran Medical Center. I was lucky enough to be picked up there. I thoroughly enjoyed my years that I spent there. It was good training. They had (a) good faculty. They had good residents. They also had a good staff. We had a good training.
MILLER: How many years did you spend there?
MORRIS: I spent three years there.
MILLER: You were engaged in private practice from 1937 - 1962. What effect, if any, did World War II have upon the medical profession?
MORRIS: A great deal. I was in private practice first in Florida in 1938. Then I was married in 1939. So, I was only in practice down there a little over a year, when I married and came here, came to Norfolk. So, that stopped my practice there (in Florida).
At first, when I landed here, of course you have to get your license. We didn't have to take our national boards as much as they do now. Now practically everyone takes national boards. But in those days, we took state boards. I had taken New York state boards. I had gotten my foreign license. I had to take my boards again in Florida. So, I had two sets of boards that I had already passed. When I came here I talked to one of the physicians in Norfolk. He said I could present my Florida boards, which I thought was a little strange. I was a little dubious about it. But he looked it up in his little book and said, 'Oh no that's alright.' Because Florida didn't accept (anybody) else's boards, I didn't see why Virginia would accept Florida's boards.
About two weeks before I was to come up for review, they wrote to me and said I couldn't present the Florida boards. Which didn't shock me except there was only 2 weeks left for me to get my New York boards and for me to get them in time. So, I went up to New York and picked up my boards from Columbia, then sent them down and I made it in time. I did get my boards (from Virginia) and that all took time. I went to work in September of '39 here. At first I worked at Children's Hospital, at Children's Clinic. Then I went into practice in 1942, whenever the war broke out in '41. Then in '42 I was in practice here. I practiced from that time on until '62.
For twenty years I practiced. I did Children's Hospital, which was then called Children's Clinic. I also was a school physician. Then in '62 I took over the School Health Services for the Norfolk public schools. I was director of that for four years. At the end of that four years, the city had decided that the school health services belonged in the Health department. So, they dumped us in the health department. Kicking and screaming all the way I joined the health department. That was a very low blow for me. It had nothing to do with me personally. I wasn't the reason it was done. They felt they could save some money by putting it over there, which they did. I suppose they saved about $50,000 a year and filled their school health services. They have practically no school health services in the Norfolk city schools today. Thanks to that charming little move. They had a fairly good program, it wasn't the best in the country by any means. There were many programs that were better. But, for the amount of money they spent, which was about $2.68 per child, it was a pretty good program. We had pretty good coverage.
Then I was in the health department. I couldn't run a school health program because they don't let you. The health department has a weird way of doing things, and there was no such program as a school health program. The nurses took care of it, which was no way to do it. I did a little of this and a little of that in tuberculosis and in school health.
Finally in 1970, I helped to write a project for the schools in health nutrition, which was funded to the tune of about $400,000 a year by the 'Feds' (federal government). We ran a very, very good program. I directed it the first year. Then I went back into the health department. When I went back into the health department I said, 'I don't want to go back to be who knows what kind of person!' The director wouldn't let me be his deputy. He subsequently had to accept women and that was hard for him. I don't mean he was against women. He just had a weird way of running the show. He didn't dislike me. But, I don't know ... I think what he didn't like about me was that I was three inches taller than he and that was kind of hard for him. That's the biggest problem I have in being big. I'm so much bigger than a lot of men, they don't like it very much. So, I talked to the regional director (of the health department). I said, 'So you have any other jobs available?' He said, 'Well how would you like to be director in Chesapeake?' I said, 'Great.' So, I went over to Chesapeake and directed the city - the Chesapeake City Health Department for seven years before I retired. Then when I retired I came over here (EVMS) and worked. I had to retire because the state requires you to retire at seventy.
MILLER: Would you say you were hindered or helped by the war during that time - professionally that is?
MORRIS: Oh, the war was a terrible thing to go through. My husband was in the service. He went in on December 8, 1941. He had already been an aviation cadet so he had some training and had some reason to believe he would be picked up. He applied to be placed as an officer. Then he had to wait out his four months before finally got picked up the first of May. He was getting so itchy about getting into the service that he finally applied to the Coast Guard. About the time that the Coast Guard appointment came through, the Navy came through too. So, he went to the Navy. He felt he was better served there. He probably was, because Coast Guard duty is not the easiest duty in the world, wartime or otherwise it's rough duty.
It was a very hard time for everybody. Norfolk was a strange town during those years. I think at one time they had 100,000 military personnel and dependents in this area. At that time, in 1940, there was 140,000 people and if you put in 100,000 (additional) people, there simply wasn't room. There wasn't housing. There were so many things lacking. It made it a very hard deal for everyone. You would go downtown on Granby Street, and you'd find it hard to believe. But, that was really a street with a streetcar running through it, there would be sailors from the curb to the storefronts. There would just be one solid mass at night, one solid mass of sailors. Incredible, because you just don't think in terms of that size group. This whole area has boomed so in population that I don't think you would ever see anything like it again. We use to see the convoys gather outside of the Capes. You would see fifty (to) sixty vessels. When the coal ships were out there, it was somewhat reminiscent of when the convoys would come out. They (the convoys) were usually further out though, and there was no bridge tunnel then. They would take up that whole Lynnhaven Roads and meet there. Then all of a sudden one day you would say, 'They were all gone!' They had taken off and all fifty (to) sixty ships would be gone.
It wasn't all that exciting. It was a very miserable time, I would say, for most people. As you know, they promptly put the lid on gasoline. In May of 1942, they put rationing on. It took them awhile for the machinery to get into motion. Up until that point we were going forty miles per hour on the highways. You try going forty miles an hour when there's nobody else on the highway and see what it feels like. It's a weird feeling! They did put rationing on the first or the fifth of May something like that in '42. People in essential jobs like medicine, like practicing physicians, had enough for their work, but they had to be very accurate in how many miles they drove. I never did get a 'C' because while I was in practice, I never went that far. So, I was honest and I didn't get anything more than I (needed). I think most people were pretty honest about it. Fats were rationed, butter and margarine, and so on. Meats were rationed. Shoes were rationed. It was not severe. We were allowed two pairs of shoes a year. You couldn't have dozens of pairs of shoes. But leather was in short supply. I ran across one of our coupon books.
We had little coupon books that specified when (and on what product) you could spend it. You could save your things. You could save your sugar coupons for instance. People with babies had a little problem because evaporated milk was rationed. Evaporated milk formula was the major formula in those days. So that got to be kind of a nuisance to work around. Of course, the rationing was on after my first child was born. After the war was over, of course, that (rationing) was (eventually) abandoned. Those are the things that people went through.
And, of course, your husband(was) gone. Mine left, he went to Jacksonville (Florida). I came back and I practiced here until December of '43. Then, I went down to Jacksonville and spent a year down there. My daughter was born in Jacksonville in March of '44. I worked when I was in Jacksonville, because I had a Florida license, so I could work down there. I worked in the clinics in the health department, (Well Child) Clinics. (I) covered one of the neighboring towns which didn't have but two doctors in the whole county of 11,000 people. So, I ran a pub clinic every Wednesday for them. I took care of everything under the sun. I knew very little about general medicine, but I found out I'd know less today so, I was more help then than I would be now. In those days we treated syphilis with bismuth and maphersan. We gave shots once a week for treating the syphilitic patients over a period of time. I didn't usually give much of the treatment. Actually, the nurses did more of it than I did. But, whenever they (the nurses) had problems getting into their veins for whatever reasons when they were doing tests, I had to do it. So they needed a doctor there.
MILLER: Did you ever have the desire to be commissioned in the Army or the Navy as a physician?
MORRIS: They did not commission women lightly in those days. There wasn't even a question about wanting to be in it (the Army or the Navy). They had almost no women commissioned as physicians.6 My sister was in the army medical corps as a dietician. She was not a WAC (Women's Army Corps). She was an army officer. (Women) Physicians they (the government) didn't look upon kindly. But, there were very few men dietitians. They needed dietitians and they took them regardless of whether they were men or women. Truly, I think World War I was the first war women got involved at all, that is officially involved at all. They had women nurses. Even in World War II they were still limited. They didn't have the women in there as they would probably have at this point. Of course, the Navy the Army, and the Air (Force) have all trained women now. So, they have a pretty good lien on several women. We have women go to Annapolis and to West Point now. So that makes a difference.
I don't know that I would want to go to a military academy between you, me, and the light post. The thing I think that is nice about it is they pay your way. I think it's right that women should have the privilege of applying and being acceptable if they meet the standards. They should have the right to be considered. I don't say they all should be admitted because they want to go, but they should be admitted only if they meet the qualifications. I'm not an ardent feminist in the sense of waving banners and burning bras. But, I am a firm believer that we (women) are the equal of men. There's no question in my mind about that. I think that men have put on us the idea of being in the second place. We have gone along with it. I don't think that's the way we should do it. I think we should stand up and be counted.
MILLER: How do you feel your work experiences would have changed had you been a man instead of a woman? Do you think there would have been a difference?
MORRIS: There would have been a big difference. I would have been in the service in World War II for one thing for sure. I do have a slight visual defect, but it is so slight it would have never kept me out of the army. I can manage without my glasses to this day. So, I have no real handicaps to keep me from being in the service. I'm sure as a man I would have been in, and I might not be alive today. Although the physicians seem to make it better than the run of the mill soldiers do.
MILLER: I would like to now focus on your personal life in regard to your career. What effect did your career choice or professional life have upon your personal life?
MORRIS: Unquestionably, it did affect my personal life from the standpoint of that I always worked. When I was pregnant, I worked right until the day I delivered. In three weeks (after the child was born), I was back on the job again. I never took any great length of time to come back again. So obviously, it (work) had an effect on it (personal life).
I also had to be fairly well organized in the way I did things. I had very little time to spare. In that sense it still affects me. Here I am retired, I'm seventy-two years old, I'll soon be seventy-three so I'm nobody's spring chicken anymore. But, I'm enjoying working. Everybody says to me, Why do you keep on working? You could stop. I'm not well-to-do, but I have enough money that I could manage to live without depriving myself a great deal. I enjoy working. In that sense I'm serious. I like to work. I feel that because of my medical background, that I'm a good person to have in this job of admissions. I've been a physician, and I've been through medical school. It (medical school) changes, things are different today. But, the fundamentals are the same. The things we were required to do (the present medical students) are still being required to do. I feel I have something to offer that not everybody would have. I don't think it is right to sit back and do nothing. I've just always been involved. So, I've enjoyed it. I enjoy this job (director of admissions at E.V.M.S.) very much. I'm being with young people. It's very stimulating. I watch my friends who are in the same age range as me. I think 'Good Lord they're sitting around worrying about their health, and so many things you can't help beyond a certain point.' (You can) go to the doctor and get some help. Then take care of yourself and do the best you can. But, don't sit around and stew and fret about (getting) enough sleep at night. I don't worry about those things. I don't mean I don't take care of myself. I'm not a person who believes in skipping the doctor. I have a physician. I take care of myself. I'm not going to sit around and fret. I have too many other things that are more interesting to do.
I think too that young people are so much bolder, because you haven't learned to be fearful. The older you get the more fearful you will be. You may not believe it, but it's true. You've seen to many things happen that were unfortunate - that could have been prevented by somebody taking a little care. So, you (as you age) tend to be too careful. Young people will plunge ahead and not let the consequences worry them too much. That's good. And it's good to be reminded that that's the way life goes.
MILLER: How would you describe the reactions of your former husband to your role as a physician during the years of 1945 - 1960?
MORRIS: He was glad I was working and had a job, and could make some money. (Laughingly) That's exactly how I'd say it.
MILLER: Could you give me a comparative description of your daily life before and after the birth of your children? Was there a difference?
MORRIS: Oh, yes, of course there was. We had to work around the children and see that they were taken care of. It takes a lot more time to have children and to look out for them. I always had help in the home to help me with it.
I also had a very specialized situation. I did my school physician's job in the morning. In the afternoon I went to the clinic (Children's Clinic). I did my private practice in between things. I would see a private patient at King's Daughter's (Hospital), at the school, at home, or wherever. I didn't maintain an office after the children were born. But, I still had a private practice. I would see them (private patients) wherever it was convenient to see them.
It takes time to take care of children. I always did all my own cooking. I always did all the things that I felt were necessary to do for the children. I enjoyed my children. They (the children) were a real, I won't say always a satisfaction, but they certainly were very absorbing and interesting to have.
I've learned a lot from my children. The one who died was twenty years old when she died. I learned a great deal from her. She was the youngest one. (She was) an unbelievably difficult baby who screamed most of the time. When she wasn't asleep, she was screaming. She seemed to spend a lot more time screaming than she did sleeping. She was the kind that at 2:00 a.m. you'd say 'If somebody would come along right now and offer me a plug nickel for this baby, 'I'd say take the baby and keep the plug nickel. I don't want either one of them! That very same attitude and behavioral pattern of hers made her a very tough person in the sense that she was very strong. She really took her illness with more aplomb than I have seen many older persons take. She never let it (leukemia) stop her. The medication knocked her galley-west the first time that she was treated. She lived with it for four years. She was treated at the National Institute of Health (NIH, located in Bethesda, Maryland) so, she had excellent treatment. But, chemotherapy is rough stuff. She was 5' 7" tall. She weighed 130 pounds when she went in, she came out weighing seventy-five pounds.
I should say NIH did a great job. They were very supportive. They had social workers, they had ministers, and all kinds of people to give them (the patients) support. People are alone at NIH. Families can't stay with them (the patients) but for so long, it gets to be costly.
She (the daughter) was there for four and a half months. I went up every weekend for seventeen weekends in a row to Bethesda, Maryland. During the week she was by herself. The interesting thing about that was that she told me long before she died. She knew she was dying. She knew she had a terminal illness. There was never any question about her knowing what she had. She said, "Mama, I knew I wasn't dying when I was at NIH that time.' I said, 'Why?" She said, 'Because you never stayed up there. You always went home every weekend.' Every time I would leave her (during her stay at NIH), I'd think, 'Oh my Lord, I'll never see her again alive!' I had to go back and go to work. I had no choice in the matter. She was taken care of. I knew that as much as I would have liked to have stayed with her, I just could not do it. That's how you manage it (career and family). You do what you have to do.
MILLER: What type of conflictual situation arose when you became a mother? Were there conflicts between work and taking care of the children?.
MORRIS: Not, too much, no. You work it out gradually. When they are infants, they don't give you a whole lot of trouble, if you have someone (hired help) to look out for them. Because I worked in a children's setting, I could take my children with me. If by chance the maid didn't come, I'd just pack them up and bring them with me. They would play with the little children out in the main lobby and have a thoroughly good time. Of course, everybody (the staff) would spoil them rotten. Everybody accepted them as a part of having me (on the staff). They would see my kids every once-in-a-while.
MILLER: What effect did your role as a physician have upon your children? Do you feel it had any type of an effect?
MORRIS: To be honest, they (the children) think that they got 'jipped'. They think that they got short tripped. I would say, very probably, they did. But then who doesn't? I've never let that particular thing bother me because that's past and done with.
They also had a lot of benefits from my being a physician. Not just the fact that I could give them the shots at home. That they didn't think was much of a benefit! The fact that I was involved in as many things as I was, made it possible for them to get entry into things that they wouldn't have otherwise. When they were girl scouts, I worked at the girl scout camp. My two older children, the two that are still surviving, both of them went to 'Girl Scout Round Up.' It's an international gathering of girl scouts. Mary, the oldest one, went out to Colorado Springs in 1959. Nancy went out in '63 to Idaho. They (Girl Scout Round Ups) were held every couple of years or so. I think that had I not been involved with the Girl Scout camp and (had) been close to the Girl Scout leaders as I was, very possibly they might not have been chosen. I think they got preferences because I had been camp physician for ten years.
MILLER: During the time you were raising your children, what type of social life did you have? Did you have much of a social life?
MORRIS: Not too much, no. My husband was a withdrawn kind of person. I probably would have had more (of a social life) if I had had a different kind of a husband. It had nothing to do with my being a physician.
Having grown up in a fairly good size family (in which) we live in a suburban community over a number of years, my family always did a certain amount of entertaining. I always liked to entertain. I like to have people in. I enjoy company.
When my children were growing up, we didn't have (very much company). That was not the fact that we had children. I probably would have had a lot more (company/friends), if I had had a different husband. I love people. I better. If you don't like people, you don't belong in medicine.
MILLER: During 1945 - 1960, if you could have added a twenty fifth hour to your day, how would you have spent it?
MORRIS: Playing the piano. Now, that I have time for it, I play much more than I did then. I didn't have a whole lot of time to play. It would usually be 9:30 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. before I could sit down. By that time you're pretty tired. I didn't do a lot with it during those years (1945 - 1960). Now, I'm getting back into it, because I have more time to spend with it. In the morning, I spend two or three hours with it.
MILLER: Reflecting upon your life, can you recall any situations that may have lead you to reconsider your decision to become a physician?
MORRIS: No. If I had it to do I would do it all over again!
MILLER: What was the most fulfilling part of your life?
MORRIS: I think probably the children. I would say the most fun time was with them. Medicine, of course, goes on, and I'm still enjoying it. To pick a time that was most fulfilling would be very difficult to do. I liked everything! I liked to practice (medicine). I liked what I did when the children were growing up. I found working in the clinics and working in the schools was very satisfying to me. I enjoyed my years as Director of the Health Department over in Chesapeake. Those were good years! I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed getting to know another community. It was fun. I go through there, and I feel like it's still my city.
MILLER: What was the most frustrating part of your work within the medical profession as a whole?
MORRIS: Probably the most frustrating part of medicine lies in the fact that you're really so handstrung to do much about anything. You may go into medicine thinking you're going to cure people, but I've got news for you. Don't think you're going to cure anybody, because you're not. All you're going to do is set up an atmosphere for them to get well on their own. You don't cure people. Sometimes you cut something out, but is that curing them? Taking it out or cutting it out, to me isn't doing anything but repairing. It isn't curing.
ENDNOTES FOR INTERVIEW WITH DR. MORRIS
1.Geneva Medical College, formally situated in Geneva, New York, is now part of Hobart College (Lois W. Banner, Women in Modern America a Brief History [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1974], p.34).
2.The average quota for women medical students in medical colleges throughout the U.S. was five percent in the time period between the two world wars (Mary Roth Walsh, "Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply" Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession 1835-1975 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974, p. 225).
3.As late as the 1930's, 250 women medical school graduates competed for 185 internships available to women. In the mid-thirties, twelve states did not have hospitals that accepted women interns. In twelve other U.S. states, women had only one hospital in each state available to them for their internship program (Mary Roth Walsh, "Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply" Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession 1835-1975 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p.224
4.Bellevue Hospital Center includes Bellevue General Care Unit, Bellevue General Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Unit, Bellevue Psychiatric Unit, and Bellevue Tuberculosis Unit. The hospital is located in New York City (AHA Guide, 1981 ed. [Chicago: American Hospital Association, 1981), p. 156).
5.National gas rationing was ordered on Friday, September 25,1942. This order also directed the Office of Defense Transportation to fix a thirty-five mile-per-hour speed limit for the entire country (R. L. Lapica ed., Facts on File Yearbook, Vol. 2 [New York: Person's Index, Facts on File, Inc., 1942, p. 310).
6.In 1942 women could serve as physicians in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs). This was seen as an inferior form of medical service because of low status and salary, lack of uniform, and lack of promotion. On April 16, 1943, President Roosevelt signed the Sparkman-Johnson Bill. This bill enabled women to enter the Army and Navy Medical Corps. For more information see the background section on women physicians (Mary Roth Walsh, "Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply" Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession 1835-1975[New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974], p. 227-230).