Books on the Texas Panhandle|
DETERMINED YOUNG LADY |
Dunnie Thomas, as told to Louise George
interviews with Texas Panhandle men and women born in the early years of the twentieth
century rewarded me with hundreds of stories illustrating their everyday life.
I like to share those stories just as they were told to me. |
Thomas, born in 1911, was one of ten children. The family lived in
the Wayside Community, just south of Palo Duro Canyon. Dunnie had polio when she
was two years old. She suffered partial paralysis and for a time, could not walk
nor talk. Her left leg was two inches shorter than the right. When she learned
to walk again, she had a pronounced limp and an ankle that turned inward so that
she actually walked on the side of her foot which formed painful calluses. She
walked that way until she was thirteen. In 1924, there were no orthopedic surgeons
in the Texas Panhandle, so Dunnie and her mother took the train from Amarillo
to Kansas City, Kansas. She entered the children's hospital where she had surgery
to stabilize her ankle to help her walk in a more natural way. There at the hospital,
Dunnie began to dream of becoming a nurse. A few months after the surgery, the
family moved to Canyon where Dunnie graduated high school. They were desperately
poor and there was absolutely no money for her to go to nursing school. Besides,
there was that limp. Should she enter into such a physically demanding profession?
The people who thought it couldn't happen just didn't know Dunnie. In her own
words she tells how she made her dream come true.
entered nurse training in the fall of 1931 after I graduated from high school
in Canyon in May. When I had the first surgery when I thirteen, I made up my mind
then that I wanted to be a nurse, and I never thought about wanting to do anything
It cost fifty dollars to go to nurse training. That was to buy your
first books and whatever you had to have for the first four months, because they
didn't pay you anything at all until you completed those first four months. I
thought and thought, "Where am I going to get the money?" I was so determined
to go, and my family couldn't help me. But I kept thinking, "Where am I going
to get the money?"
You know, I had gone to high school with the two Whittenburg
boys, the two younger ones. The Whittenburgs were the only people I knew that
could help me, but I had never met the old man. One day, I walked down to their
house and the two boys were sitting in the living room when I went in and inquired
about their daddy. He was there, but he was not feeling well and was in bed. The
boys said, "We'll go see if he'll see you." They came back in a minute and told
me that he said to send me in.
I went in and sat down and we talked. He
asked me a number of questions about why I wanted to be a nurse. Then he said,
"Well, hand me my checkbook." I handed it to him and he wrote me out a check for
fifty dollars. And that's how I got to go to nurse training at Northwest Texas
Nurse Training School in Amarillo.
lived in the nurses' home. We didn't cook or anything because there wasn't room.
The rooms just had beds and we had a drawer for our things. That was all we needed
really, because it was during the depression and nobody had anything anyway. We
worked six and a half days a week, we only had a half a day off. We worked that
for three years. At first we worked twelve hours a day. Well, some of us worked
nights. We only had two shifts, one for day and one at night. When we started,
no one worked eight hours a day - it was twelve. Later some kind of law was passed
that made it eight, but at first it was twelve hours a day, six and a half days.
And you know there aren't any holidays in a hospital. After a while we did get
some time for vacation. I don't remember exactly how many hours we went to class,
but the classes were scheduled at different times during the day and we had some
classes in the evening. Most of the time though, you had to be in your room, preferably
ready for bed by ten o'clock. We had to get up so early, six or before, to get
washed and dressed and get to work before seven. We had to be there to get the
reports and get ready to go to work.
Another thing, we didn't get any
pay until the end of the first four months, or get past probation and then they
paid you ten dollars a month for those four months, or forty dollars. They paid
us ten dollars a month the first year and twelve-fifty the second. When I completed
my probation and got my first pay, I went down and paid half of it to old man
There were thirty of us started, but only ten of us got past
probation. All ten of us graduated and went to work, and one of us went on and
made a doctor.
© Louise George
- March 1, 2006
In the forties when polio was raging in the Panhandle, Dunnie went to Harvard
and studied to become a physical therapist. She once said, "Mama told me I could
do anything I wanted if I just tried hard enough. I believed her and I did. I
could do most everything some way or other." |
Louise George is
author of two books, No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas, and Some of
My Heroes Are Ladies, Women, Ages 85 to 101, Tell About Life in the Texas Panhandle.
Louise can be reached at (806) 935-5286, by mail at Box 252, Dumas, Texas, or
by e-mail at lgeorge@NTS-online.net.