Life in Alton in the 1940s was much different than it is today — in her book, “The Diploma Nurse: Her Shining Day, Her Fading Touch,” Jessie Glover Wilson describes that life as a nurse living and practicing in Alton.
Wilson says the area, as well as the life it offers, brought fond memories.
“I remember life at that time as quiet, safe and stable, with industrial growth edging forward and providing families a good living ... with good neighbors who were just like you,” she says. “I miss that.”
Her journey started at the Alton Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. Wilson obtained her bachelor’s degree at Shurtleff College and her master’s in nursing at Washington University. She later went back to Alton Memorial and taught there, as well as at the St. Joseph School of Nursing. She also directed the Lewis and Clark Community College associate degree program in 1970 and 1971. Wilson finished her career as vice president of Hannibal Regional Hospital.
“Nursing has been my life, in addition to my family and my faith,” she says.
Wilson’s book reflects the experiences that she had throughout her nursing career in the thoughts and words of her character, a diploma nurse.
“Because of the unique times in which this nurse worked, I wanted her contribution to be etched in the minds and hearts of the public for whom she served so well,” Wilson said. “I lived my stories in this historical time, so it was my life experience that drove the writing.”
Although the book describes many of Wilson’s experiences, a few are held particularly close to her heart. One of them was during a time when infectious diseases were rampant and immunizations were not readily available.
“The complications were serious, and we had limited drugs to combat them,” Wilson said. “Our touch often made the difference.”
The other is during the beginning of a change in the medical profession’s treatment of mental illness.
“We lived on the grounds of mental hospitals for three months, learning about mentally ill patients,” Wilson said. “For someone who was only 18, my memories are still very vivid — we aided in shock therapy, without the therapy modalities we have today.”
Wilson has not lived in the Alton area for about four decades and says she greatly misses it.
“I miss the scenic and grand Mississippi River and the bluffs,” she said.
During recent visits, the area’s growth gave her joy.
“I was so proud of the outstanding nursing building at Lewis and Clark College,” Wilson said. “To think I had the honor to get that nursing program on solid ground, to meet with the present leaders and to see the amazing robotic mannequins and well-equipped labs and gorgeous buildings was overwhelming.”
She says the new innovations bring many more opportunities to an age-old and highly respected profession.
“They will enable the present-day student nurse to become more skilled and to be able to carry on the nurse’s touch that I so described in my book. With better means of teaching skills to the present-day nurse, the spirit of nursing I so feared was fading is returning and will be passed on.”
Today, Wilson is retired and involved in volunteer work. She facilitates a grief support program and trains people in her church to minister to hurting people.
“And, with my husband, Ron, I watch two grandsons play football and bake cookies with two granddaughters,” she said.
Wilson is also starting another book — this one is about those who have found life after grief.
In all of Jessie Glover Wilson’s journeys, she feels blessed and fortunate to see the development of a profession she cares for so deeply. She holds tightly to her memories of growing up in Alton.
“I owe much to this river town,” she said. “I want Alton to know how grateful I am for having been an Altonian.”
Jessie Wilson’s book, “The Diploma Nurse: Her Shining Day, Her Fading Touch,” can be purchased from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It also can be purchased directly from her by calling (918) 369-0473.