The Mother of Psychiatric Nursing: Hildegard E. Peplau

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I have to admit, I never heard of Hilde Peplau until about ten years ago when I read about her in Irene Reed’s book, Berks County Women in History, Volume 2. Hildegard was one of the world’s leading nurses! Nursing is a profession I admire greatly because I know I could never do that job! I didn’t get squeamish when my kids got sick or needed stitches, but I just know I couldn’t do that job day after day! I guess that’s why they say, “Different strokes, for different folks!”

Hilde was born in Reading in 1909, the second daughter of Gustav and Ottylie Peplau. She had two sisters and three brothers. She was nine years old when she witnessed the flu pandemic of 1918.  When she observed how this event impacted families, she decided to become a nurse.

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In 1931 she graduated from Pottstown’s School of Nursing. She worked as a staff nurse in Pennsylvania and New York City and then became the school nurse at Bennington College in Vermont. While there, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology in 1943. Her lifelong work was focused on interpersonal theory for use in the nursing practice. During WWII she served in the Army nurse corps at the 312th Field Station Hospital in England. She worked side by side with many of the leaders in American and British psychiatry. After the war these leaders, mostly men, and Hilde, worked to restructure the mental health system in the US. After earning her Master’s Degree and Ph.D, she developed and taught the first classes for graduate psychiatric nursing students. She was a prolific writer and was well known for her programs, speeches and clinical training workshops.

Hilde advocated for nurses to treat psychiatric patients with therapeutic methods, not just custodial care which was how patients in mental hospitals were treated in that era. She conducted summer workshops during the 50s and 60s for nurses throughout the US. At these workshops, she taught interpersonal concepts as well as individual, family and group therapy. Her textbook from 1952 has been translated into nine languages. She tried to publish it in 1948, when it was finished, but publication was delayed four years, because it was thought to be too revolutionary for a nurse to publish a book without a doctor as co-author! When she passed away in 1999, she was known to many people as “The Nurse of the Century”. In 1997 she received the world of nursing’s most prestigious award, the Christiane Reimann Prize. This honor is only given once every four years for outstanding national and international contributions to nursing and health care. The American Academy of Nursing honored Hilde as a “Living Legend” in 1996 and in 1998 the American Nurses Association inducted her into the ANA Hall of Fame. Our Hildegard Peplau, from Reading, PA, is regarded as “the mother of psychiatric nursing”!

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #4

I wrote the poem, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, which was later set to music, during the Civil War. President Lincoln is said to have wept upon hearing it sung. Who am I?

Mystery Woman Answer #3

Answer: Sandra Day O’connor

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Keeping Our Soldiers Informed: An Act of Service During WWII

During WWII, The Reading Eagle published weekly newspapers and sent them to Berks Countians serving overseas. Did you know that another group of local residents created their own publication to send to Berks natives during the war? The Berks History Center is fortunate to have many of these monthly newsletters in our Research Library collection!

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The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces, October 1943. (AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection” in the BHC Research Library)

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, a non-profit organization called the The United Service Organizations (U.S.O.) was founded at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. The organization’s purpose was to boost morale of troops fighting in World War II.  Shortly after the war began, a group of citizens from Berks County decided to enclose a note to servicemen along with the stationary provided by the U.S.O. The group invited local servicemen to write to them in order to keep up with news from home.

The response was overwhelming, so D.R. Shenton and Claire Henry decided to start a newsletter that could be mass produced, instead of writing to each soldier individually. They called it “The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces.” Shenton acted as editor and Henry kept up with correspondence as secretary. Their first official newsletter went out on September 1, 1942. Each newsletter included news about local events, the merits of local soldiers (Lt. General Carl Spaatz’s name appeared often) and a special sports section.

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A V-Mail Letter thanking Claire Henry for The Writers’ Service (AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection” in the BHC Research Library)

 

Local organizations, like churches, clubs, and unions could sponsor copies of the newsletter to send out to their members. Henry wrote to a friend in England that the newsletters and other correspondence were constant work, however the men seemed to enjoy them and appreciate their work. Letters steadily came in from Berks County natives expressing their thanks—most of their correspondence also included change of address information so they would continue to receive the latest news. The Writers’ Service continued sending newsletters, at least until V-J Day in August 1945. There is no record of The Writers’ Service in any local publication, including the Reading Eagle or The Historical Review of Berks County.

Claire Henry, secretary of The Writers’ Service, was an antique collector and antiques dealer. She corresponded with friends in England, often about the latest piece they found in London, and if she wanted them to send it to her in Pennsylvania. One of her shipments in 1942, was sunk by enemy fire while sailing across the Atlantic. Claire noted how disappointed she was that good antiques ended up on the ocean floor. Henry lived in West Lawn, a suburb of Reading. Her sister, Margaret Henry Moeller, stayed with Henry while her husband, A.R. Moeller, served in the war. It is likely their mother and sister lived there as well. Henry died at the age of 101, in 1995. According to her obituary, she lived in Indiana for many years, where she ran a ceramics shop, before returning to Berks County.

D.R. Shenton went on to act as co-editor for The Historical Review for over ten years. He never wrote an article about his work on the newsletters. He died on May 9, 1962.

AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection, which contains these materials, is available to use for research at The Berks History Center Research Library.

Article Written & Researched by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik.

Before E-Mail There Was V-Mail: War Letters in WWII

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It is not uncommon to find letters written during wartime–either in archival collections or in personal collections kept within the family.

During World War II, you might have received or sent a letter in the “V-mail” (“Victory mail”) format. Letters were written on special paper and then microfilmed to reduce space. The microfilm rolls were shipped and reproduced at another location, and then delivered to the intended recipient.

Although traditional first class mail was preferred, over 1 billion pieces of V-mail were sent and received during WWII!  We have a few pieces of V-mail in the Berks History Center’s Research Library. The letter pictured above was written to thank a local group for producing newsletters and sending them to Berks servicemen around the world.

​(V-mail letter, Berks History Center Library, AC 80)

Researched & Written by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik

Industry in Berks: Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company

 

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Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company Foundry Pattern  on display in the Berks History Center Museum.

Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company traces its beginnings back to 1740 when William Bird built a forge, a saw mill and grist mill and founded the town of  Birdsboro. His oldest son, Marcus, enlarged on his father’s work and constructed Hopewell Furnace. He was the largest producer of iron in America during the Revolutionary War.  After the war, the forges have financial problems caused the Birds to sell their assets to Matthew Brooke changed the name to the Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company.

The forges were most successful under Brooke’s management in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War, the company produced munitions and armaments for the Union Army and began manufacturing parts for railroad cars and locomotives.  This was the beginning of steel production for the family. The company continued its tradition of supplying the armed forces with providing the Navy with material for building a steel fleet during the late 19th century.

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Photo taken in the Berks History Center Museum’s Trades to Industry Room

In 1906, the management decided to erect a large modern steel foundry with a potential capacity of approximately 3000 tons per month for making steel castings.  In World War II, the government contracted with Birdsboro Steel and Foundry and Machine Company to produce tanks and artillery for the war effort.  In 1944, a manufacturing subsidiary was established for weapons manufacturing known as Armorcast. By the end of the war, the company began to manufacture more industrial equipment, many used in the production of steel.

After 1947, the federal government and several businessmen tried to sell or use the space.  Armorcast failed to win a government contract to continue production in 1975 and the plant closed in 1988 after a lengthy strike. The four smokestacks, collapsed in the planned implosion to make way for a new power-generating facility, were the last vestiges of a regional history of manufacturing started before the American Revolution.

“Manufacturing evolved from making cannon for Revolutionary War to making tanks for World War II,” said Sanders, 70, former Superintendent of Hopewell Furnace.  “All that’s gone now.”

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia