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Serving on the homefront: Cadet Nurse Corps in Duluth

Cadet nurses Beverly Mulford, left, and Maxine Gerard in their winter uniforms from the 1940s. (Submitted photo)

Beverly Mulford says she always wanted to be a nurse. In January of 1944, she enrolled in the Cadet Nurse Corps training program at St. Luke's Hospital to do just that.

The cadet nurse corps program was created in 1943 to solve the shortage of nurses due to many serving in WWII. The corps was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt within the Public Health Services to provide funding for nursing schools. Women who joined in the corps pledged to serve as nurses either on the homefront or in the military after completing their training. The nursing training was free and women who signed up for the program also received a monthly stipend.

"They paid for our schooling plus I think we got about $40 of spending money a month. And in those days, that was good," said Mulford.

To qualify to join the cadet nurse corps, women had to be between the ages of 17 and 35, graduated in good standing from an accredited high school and be in good health. The corps was nondiscriminatory and open to women of all backgrounds. Mulford joined after graduating from Hibbing High School in 1943.

The cadet nurses were required to wear uniforms whenever they went in public, says Mulford. She pointed out a picture of herself and her best friend and fellow nurse Maxine Gerard dressed in their uniforms and said, "We had these and before we graduated we had blue uniforms. Not very

attractive."

Cadet nurses could have been called to serve as first or second lieutenants, said Louis Gerard, Maxine's widower. However, the shortage of nurses on the homefront led to many, like Mulford, staying at the hospitals where they were trained.

"They were so short of nurses as St. Luke's that even though we had signed up for the military program, we were needed to finish out our one year at St. Luke's. So that's what we did,"

Mulford said. She said she could see the need for nurses was great because she was put on night duty while still in training.

"You're a 'probie' for the first six months and they put us probies on night duty in charge of about 30 people," says Mulford. "They put us on night duty a lot. They were short. It was wartime."

According to Mulford, cadet nurses worked and studied six days a week. She says the cadets would take nursing classes during the day and put their knowledge to work at night in the hospital.

"Nurse training was so different then. Today, it's more like college. We had a lot of practice on the floors," said Mulford.

Despite the rigorous training, Mulford remembers having some fun while in the program. She remembered going down to St. Peter for three months of psychiatric training. As the bus pulled into the hospital in St. Peter, there was a bunch of guys standing around looking at the bus, Mulford said. The men would stand there to see the new cadets and pick out which ones they liked best.

"They'd stand there and go, 'Oh, I think I'd like that one' or 'Oh, I think I'd like to talk to that one!'" said Mulford. "Then they'd come up to you and we'd go have a picnic or something."

Mulford also remembers the end of World War II. She said that she and other nurses were on duty in the nursery at St. Luke's when she heard the news. They wanted to drink a toast but, being in the nursery, all they could find to toast with was orange juice. So they settled for that and toasted anyway.

Mulford described what she could see from the window of the nursery: "We looked outside and there were people marching down Superior Street singing away and looking happy. 'War is over! War is over!'"

With the end of the war came the end of the cadet nursing corps. The last group of cadets enrolled in the program graduated in 1948, bringing the program it its close.

Mulford graduated from the program and went on to be the assistant head nurse of the fourth floor center at St. Luke's for several years. She also worked as a nurse in the Hibbing School District for several years before she got married.

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