In this interview, Elsie B. Anderson discusses her parents’ Swedish origins, their sixth grade-level educations, and their paths to learning English. She goes on to recall having three career options – nurse, teacher, or secretary – and choosing to become a nurse.
Being only seventeen when she graduated high school, Anderson explains why she chose to spend one year taking general courses at Rhode Island State College, now University of Rhode Island, and join the Cadet Nurse Corps. She remembers getting extensive government funding because it was the start of World War II when nurses were most needed, and getting some military benefits for her service. She goes on to explain that studying in Rhode Island Hospital’s nursing program for one year, her grades were so high that she was chosen to attend a new nursing program Pembroke College in October 1944. This dual program allowed her to receive a nursing diploma from Rhode Island Hospital in addition to a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Pembroke.
Anderson describes living in the women’s infirmary on the Pembroke campus, Dean Margaret Shove Morriss’ logic behind the dual program, and the curriculum requirements. In speaking of the coeducational classes that were necessitated by wartime, Anderson elucidates her initial disappointment with the Pembroke-Brown merger and identifies the benefits she has noticed over time.
Anderson briefly reflects back on social life on campus and dances, before returning to the topic of the dual program. She notes that after nursing schools had to receive national accreditation, Pembroke was no longer a legitimate school from which to receive a nursing degree. She explains how this affected her future occupational and educational opportunities. Anderson concludes her interview by describing commencement at both Pembroke and Rhode Island Hospital, her career teaching nursing, and how she managed maintaining a career and motherhood.
Note: The audio for this interview is occasionally of poor quality. Please also refer to the transcript.
Recorded on May 10, 1988 in Goddard House, Brown University, Providence, RI
Interviewed by Jennifer H. Gaudette
Suggested Chicago style citation: Anderson, Elsie B. Interview. By Jennifer H. Gaudette. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 10, 1988.
Elsie B. Anderson was born in 1925 in Providence, Rhode Island to Frida Nisson Anderson, a cook, and Ossian Anderson, a machinist, both natives of Sweden. Her sister Doris Anderson Landau ’49 also attended Pembroke College. Prior to matriculating at Pembroke, Anderson attended Aldrich High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, and the University of Rhode Island (1942-1943). At Pembroke, she studied nursing in a joint program with the Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing (1943-1947), earning a bachelor’s degree and professional diploma. In 1950, she married William J. Lewis, a customer relations executive at Narragansett Electric Company, with whom she had two children. During her career as a nurse educator, Anderson taught at the Rhode Island School of Nursing (1947-1972) and the Community College of Rhode Island. She also worked as an “expert witness,” independently reviewing medical malpractice cases. In 1982, Anderson received a Master’s degree in education from Rhode Island College.