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Corp celebrates 75th anniversary

As Otter Tail County celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, another organization with a history here celebrates its 75th. Locally, the United States Cadet Nurse Corps of World War II was located at the historic Fergus Falls State Hospital (FFSH).

In 1942, an article in Pathfinder magazine stated, “America is begging for nurses.” The need for nurses with psychiatric experience was critical and local nurses responded. In 1942, Cpl. Mildred Wegener began working at Camp Ripley and Lt. Lorraine Jensen served on a Missouri Army neuro-psychiatric ward. Ann Busko, Registered Nurse, started out as a Red Cross nurse before entering the Army Nurse Corps. Eleanor Dybdal, Registered Nurse, immediately received the rank of Army Second Lieutenant.

Officially, nurses couldn’t train in hospitals after 1941. The Minnesota Legislature passed a law requiring registered nurses to earn college degrees. But the war created a nursing shortage and under the leadership of Rep. Frances Bolton of Ohio, the Cadet Nurse Corps program was born. Cadet nurses received an abbreviated training condensed into 24-30 months. Beginning in 1944, cadet nurses lived and trained at the Fergus Falls State Hospital to get psychiatric nursing experience. Margaret Heimes, from the FFSH staff, actually worked in Washington, D.C. at the national Cadet Nurse Corps headquarters.

The trainees promised, “As a cadet nurse, I pledge to my country my service in essential nursing for the duration of the war.”[1] In return they received free tuition, free uniforms and all their schoolbooks. Initially, they were paid $15 a month while training, raised to $20 after the ninth month. Trainees in a military hospital earned $60 a month. The program cost the government $65 million per year.

Cadet Nurses at FFSH arrived from hospitals all over the area including Good Samaritan in Rugby, North Dakota, St. Luke’s in Fargo, St. Francis in Breckenridge, Fairview, Northwestern, and St. Mary’s in Minneapolis among others. The first group of 24 women spent 3 months learning topics in occupational and recreational therapy, various mental and nervous disorders, neuro-anatomy and clinical psychiatry. Principal Mary M. Bayerle oversaw the training school. I even found a Mary Lou Hermes on the September 1944 cadet roster!

By 1945, cadet nurses were providing 80 percent of the nursing care in U.S. hospitals. Then in October 1945 after the war ended, President Truman announced the program’s termination. Cadets still in training were told that women wishing to complete their training would now have to pay tuition. Florence Beck’s parents paid the remainder of her fees and she had a long career as a nurse. A poem written by “Goldie” on the second floor of the West Detached Wing wrote the cadet nurses goodbye.

“So as we bid you now, farewell

To respond to a country’s need,

From the heart of each and all of us

We bid you all, God’s speed!”

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