Better Living Through Girls Series Books, Part I: Cherry Ames’ Book of First Aid and Home Nursing

Eventually, most of the really long-running series would seem to run out of ideas for a new installment in the adventures of the titular plucky girl-heroines and, wanting to keep that cash cow producing delicious green paper milk, would turn out a non-fiction volume so readers could model after and improve upon their lives in the manner of their YA favorites.

Starting this week, we’ll look at three non-fiction spin offs of popular series:

Nurse Cherry Ames cheerfully leads readers through various basic first aid techniques, often using anecdotes about her brother Charlie (forever falling out of windows) and her friend Midge (who stands in a sink full of water to change a light bulb, teaching the reader a valuable lesson about not getting electrocuted) (Oh, Midge).

While only about 50 years old, the volume takes us back to simpler, dirtier, more dangerous time. Most maladies are treated with salt water (“infected wounds”, heat exhaustion), baking soda (“severe burns”, drinking sulfuric acid that somebody has stored in a soda bottle in the icebox) or a combination of salt water and baking soda (shock).

It is a world filled with rusty nails, poisonous snakes and unpasteurized milk. Food poisoning is so common that Cherry advises against eating at restaurants altogether, because who knows what you’re going get? Again, Midge does not follow Cherry’s sage advice and has to spend her “Hallowe’en” party in bed because she wolfed down a plate of rotten figs (Oh, Midge…)

There are also five chapters about building a dedicated Sick Room in your home! Learn how to make a bed tray out of a sturdy cardboard box! Advice on selecting appropriate radio programs for the invalid! Instructions on how to make pipe-cleaner dolls that will entertain children for hours! Pages of advice about providing attractive meals!

“How good are you at arranging an attractive tray? For the sick person who never wants to hear of food again, a glass of milk in a ruby-red tumbler and bread-and-butter finger-strips arranged like a lattice may surprise and tempt him into eating.”

Also: “A sweet potato, suspended by toothpicks in a jar of water, makes an attractive sick-room plant.”

Cancel my polio vaccine, I want bed-and-butter finger-strips and a jar full of potato blossoms!

Finally, Cherry addresses your career as a future RN, from the joys of life in the Nursing Students’ Dormitory (“Proms, picnics, sports facilities and the Head Nurse’s teas”!) to all of the exciting positions on Indian Reservations, in public health clinics, department stores, summer camps and traveling positions in “the little-known areas of South America, of Africa, of Alaska!” She also suggests a career in the armed services (remember, she was Lt. Ames during World War II!)  for girls who want to travel.

Which is why it is a little disappointing for her to sum up the lessons thusly:

“Any girl can expect to give a great deal of home and health care, and unselfish service, to her family and community during the course of her lifetime. Perhaps that is why there is a saying that nurses- and girls with a knowledge of nursing- make the best wives and mothers and the best homemakers.”

Too late, Nurse Ames! My sense of adventure has already been inflamed! You can’t keep me down on the farm now that I’ve seen the little-known area of Alaska! Now I just have to decide between Island NurseJungle Nurse or Dude Ranch Nurse!

Good Advice: If you see lightning, you should “just lie down in a hollow in the ground”.  Just be sure the hollow is not full one of the four kinds of poisonous snakes native to North America!

The Best Thing About This Book: Is clearly the chart in the back that shows you the different schools’ graduate nursing caps…

Next Week: Learning to cook with Nancy Drew for some reason.

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20 Responses to Better Living Through Girls Series Books, Part I: Cherry Ames’ Book of First Aid and Home Nursing

  1. Pingback: Better Living Through Girls Series Books, Part II: The Nancy Drew Cookbook- Clues to Good Cooking | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  2. Pingback: Better Living Through Girls’ Series Books, Part III: The Baby-Sitters Club Guide to Baby-Sitting | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  3. sdaven5191 says:

    I always dearly loved my Cherry Ames books as a young girl, and still do for their oh-so-cheerful, and frequently oh-so-thrilling adventures Miss Ames constantly finds herself in! (With the glaring exception of Miss Ames acquiring a wedding band and a husband to go with it, which at the time would likely have ended her nursing career.) The absolutely spot on historically based situations, always leaning on contemporary traditional values, can leave one shaking her head at how she can be so conservative in her approach to such progressive adventures! But, being our intrepid heroine, how could she do otherwise?
    My mother presented me with the first five original, “cherry red” bound first editions of this wonderful series when I was about 9 and sick in bed recovering from a bout with a nasty flu epidemic that was ravaging the countryside. I was confined to bed, and was finally past the first head-ringing, stomach churning parts, and needing something new to read to occupy my time.
    I was always a voracious, precocious reader, well above third grade level by at least two years, so the advanced text was no problem for me. I pored through the first book, “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” in a few days, often falling asleep with it clutched in my hands. The rest were no less engrossing, only leaving me wanting more! I was sad only to have reached the end of the fifth book, and had by then made a firm resolution to become a nurse, spurred on by what I was sure would be similar experiences of my own once entering nursing school! My vivid imagination put me in every situation in which Cherry found herself as I read them, and I could see myself coming out the heroine of the story at every turn.
    I started rereading the books I had, and I think my parents were pleased to find their own gift-giving dilemmas solved for me for several years to come! Each birthday and Christmas found identically sized wrapped packages waiting for my eager hands to discover. Usually at least three at a time, and in the brightly colored contemporary picture bindings of the time. No more dark cherry red plain covers for me. The value of the first editions was not lost on me though, since they had first belonged to my mother as she was growing up during the war years that produced them. They were carefully stored on the top of a rapidly filling bookcase, safe from the reach of much younger siblings, and the occasional pet.
    My own collection filled out rapidly, until I lost some interest in the repetitive nature of the volumes, and continued to grow beyond them.
    I packed them away finally, to rediscover them as a newly married young woman, having been unable due to the circumstances of the times ~ a somewhat tumultuous home life which produced uneven and less than acceptable grades, and a serious lack of funds, in addition to changing goals as I grew older ~ to pursue the nursing education I had been so firmly resolute to follow as a young girl.
    But I never lost my interest in the medical profession, and finally as a mother of two teenagers, returned to school to pursue a career as a Certified Surgical Technologist, a profession which was actually in its infancy as an allied health career in the military of the years of World War II. It became the profession I was to enjoy, succeed in and pursue for the following 15 years, until an on the job injury served to take me out of the field permanently, much to my dismay.
    I still have the books I started out reading as a young girl, almost 50 years ago. I have even retrieved them from their storage place and read them again, now that I am unable to work at all, and I am home all the time with ample opportunities to read whatever I choose. I enjoy them thoroughly, even though I found I could quote many parts of them by memory. Their stories still intrigue me, and their place in history of the nursing profession still gold gold gold gold is true.
    My only disappointment with the illustration provided above is that since the first and most significant portion of her nursing career and experiences was as an Army Nurse during WWII, no one thought to include a drawing of the US Army nurse’s duty caps (there was more than one authorized style), even though the US Navy nurse cap is represented. The other caps shown here are certainly unique, and represent much more than what most people conceive as the “traditional” nurse’s cap styles, and come from schools most people are not familiar with, unless they lived in the area where these particular schools were located.
    Thanks for providing this rare glimpse into the world of young women’s fiction to the women of today, from a time well before even their own mother’s and even some grandmother’s existence!

    • sdaven5191 says:

      I have no idea what my “smartphone” had in mind when I was writing and posting the text of this comment, but I can promise you that “still gold gold gold gold is true” is NOT what I had in mind!!!!!
      The only thing I can come up with is that the spell checker has adopted my own personal fascination with jewelry, and decided that the phrase “still RINGS true” simply wasn’t emphatic enough!! LOL! My goodness ~ and this was only after I had proofread the whole thing before I hit “Post Comment”!! So sorry!

      • mondomolly says:

        Thanks for sharing your memories and love of Cherry Ames! I inherited a partial set of the series from my Aunt and have been rebuilding the full set over the years. I was also a fan of the Sue Barton nursing series when I was younger.

        And I agree, I would have loved to see a few pages of the different nursing caps!

        (And I love your smartphone’s auto-correct, it is hysterical!)

        Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. I have managed through luck and researching to buy sites to have almost acquired the entire Cherry Ames collection! My own books were stored in an attic,and the pages are so old that many of the editions’ pages will crack if not handled with care! Also the books carry the notice that they were printed under” war time conditions “. I know that Cherry had a great influence on me as I did become an RN ! All those years ago,and I still treasure those books .

    • mondomolly says:

      Thanks for your comment and congrats on finding almost all of the Cherry Ames books for your collection! They are such fun and I love hearing from readers that were inspired to go into nursing because of her!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi:
      I’m a fellow Cherry Ames enthusiast and am wondering whether you might be aware of any convention/symposium or similar gathering for fans of the series (as there is with Nancy Drew).
      Thanks,
      Dorothy

  5. Susan says:

    I love Cherry Ames! I first read Visiting Nurse which was awesome because Cherry was having great adventures in New York City with her Spencer classmates. I was genuinely scared for her over the landlord and the blue furniture 🙂 . I don’t remember where I got that copy from but I found several more of the early ones in a library and after that kept my eyes open for them in other libraries. The second one I read was “Chief Nurse” and the battle scenes stuck with me for a long time. Through the joy of Ebay I’ve collected most of the others although I’ve been disappointed in the Julie Tathum ones (they were modeled too much on mysteries and not enough on nursing — trying to copy Nancy Drew too closely, I think); the Helen Wells books were much better.

    I never knew about this First Aid and Home Nursing book but since I loved my Girl Scout handbooks I think I would have been really excited to get this book! Alas …it just wouldn’t be the same now.

  6. dorothy says:

    Hello fellow Cherry Ames enthusiasts!
    Anyone know whether there’s any kind of convention or similar gathering for Cherry Ames fans, similar to what exists for Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton? I’ve scoured online and can find nothing, which is curious given Cherry’s legion of baby boomer readers.
    Thanks

  7. Toni Diaz says:

    I started reading Cherry Ames in the third grade. I have been a nurse for over forty years now and am going for my FNP. Thanks Cherry!

  8. Susan says:

    While looking up Helen Wells, the author of the original WWII era Cherry Ames books, I ran across the obituary of her brother, who died several years ago at age 104. (It includes “he was also preceeded in death by his sister, author Helen Wells.”) He was an Army WWII veteran. He served in England, so was undoubtedly the source for the “Flight Nurse” book, and in the Phillipines, so would have been a source for the “Chief Nurse” book. He also participated at Normandy on D-Day. Maybe he had some input into the “Veterans Nurse” book as well.

  9. Melissa Snyder says:

    I went through s phase of wanting to be s nurse after devouring as many Cherry Ames books as I and the interlibrary loan system could get our hands on. But even Cherry herself kept stressing how healthy a nurse had to be, and I knew I could never live up to that. I’ve often thought of dressing as Cherry for Halloween, but with my straight hair and blue eyes I could never quite pull it off. Thanks for bringing up such lovely memories!

    • Susan says:

      I always liked the scenes that described the living quarters — the student housing at Spencer, the 60 nurses in the military quarters on the island, the bunks at the air base, the apartment in Greenwich Village with the infamous blue furniture! And of course Cherry’s room at home in Hilton with the crisp white red-ribboned dressing table skirts!

    • mondomolly says:

      Thanks for sharing the memories! I read my Aunt’s set of Cherry Ames book growing up and she made the professsion sound so glamorous!

      • Susan says:

        Yes, they were different from Nancy Drew in that Nancy never went to college and lived at home with her father Carson Drew (who financially supported her) and housekeeper Hannah Gruen, but we did learn in-depth about Cherry’s nursing school time, away from home, and then she traveled all around for her career, earning her own salary. In books written in the 40s and 50s!

        The first Cherry book I read, having bought it from the used book donations at a church fair , was the Visiting Nurse book. It has always been my favorite, as I love the six Spencer girls living together in NYC. They worked very hard and very seriously but also enjoyed their time together and the city.

  10. Melissa Snyder says:

    Forgot to add – I think the sunset of the books dealing with Cherry’s training and military service during WWII could make a great 6- or 12- part TV miniseries. History! Wartime adventure! Romance! Medical drama! It’s got it all! Remove some of the subplots and you could do an hourlong episode per book.

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