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The Clymer Diaries

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The Clymer Diaries 

“…trying to have my eyes in thirteen while my hands make a bed in eleven. The patient in thirteen has to be watched the one in eleven is so afraid of a draught that I have to keep the door closed” (Clymer, no pagination). 

The more things change…

If you’re a nurse or nurse in training today, you’ve probably felt overwhelmed by patient care. So did Clymer when she wrote the above more than a century ago. As a young nurse in training, she put her personal observations and lecture notes into two volumes, or “diaries” that provide us with a record of medical practices, conventions, and schooling in the late 19th century.  


Two Volumes, One Training Course

Clymer left her notebooks at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) Nurse’s residence when she graduated, perhaps intended for a friend who was writing a history of the training program. The first volume contains Clymer’s lecture notes taken in class, the second contains much the same material, recopied. Comparing corresponding pages of the two volumes reveals how her course work was structured. 

Volume One (Page 10R)

this will usually unite in 24 hrs. these cells may be scarped not always successful but drafting is. Not so liable to break & form new ulcers as the skin is strengthened. There sometimes form cancers. To remove clothing try & not tear or carry away the skin- better to cut the clothes off & life him out of them

Clymer had to write quickly to keep up with her lectures. Note the casual script, use of abbreviations such as “hrs”, and misspellings (“life” for “lift”, “scarped” for “scraped”). Along with formal lectures, Clymer recorded her observations as she served as a nurse-in-training, and the tips and tricks she learned. In volume two, Clymer recopied her earlier notes in neater handwriting, paying greater attention to clarity and grammar. This volume was then turned in for grading as part of the training course. 

Volume Two (Page 36R)  

who has been burned, never remove the skin by roughly pulling the clothes off, but rather cut them & lift the patient out of them. Would like to speak to us again on the way heat & cold affects a person & the similarity in the looks of a burn & a frozen part after a few days. <br/><br/><strong>Excellent</strong> Mary V. Clymer "

Lecture notes weren’t just a crucial part of Clymer’s course work—she would also have referred to these notes as a working nurse, along with her professor’s corrections. In addition to corrections, phrases such as “Excellent” (written above in red pen) appear in the second volume. These aren’t just a comments, but the actual grades she received for this assignment, as the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) didn’t use letter grades in the 19th century. 

Volume One

Volume Two