Archives Diary: Cooking and Healing 100 Years Ago

Elizabeth Winslow’s course notebook. While notes about nurses’ duties and medical science make up the bulk of the notes, recipes for patient-friendly foods are also included.

Elizabeth Winslow’s course notebook, Box 68, New England Deaconess School of Nursing Records, MS.1989.008, John J. Burns Library,  Boston College. While notes about nurses’ duties and medical science make up the bulk of the notes, recipes for patient-friendly foods are also included.

As the processing team at the Burns Library worked with the New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing records, we caught a glimpse of life as a nursing student from the turn of the 19th century through 1989, when the school closed. Through course listings, notebooks, scrapbooks, correspondence, and photographs, we caught a snippet of the voices of these women – and, starting in the 1970s, a few men.

One of the items that caught our interest was a little course notebook that included, of all things, recipes. While a nursing organization’s records might not be the first place for a researcher to look for recipes, it does stand to reason that a nurse would have to know what foods a patient could eat and, for hospitalized patients, how to make it.

Elizabeth Winslow, thankfully, penned her name in the book’s cover, along with “St. Luke’s Hospital, New Bedford, Mass.” Another note in pencil says, “gift of Tricia.” While Winslow’s connection to “Tricia” and the Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing are unknown, we can glean bits of history just from the notebook.

A recipe for prune whip. The notes give no indication what kind of patient might enjoy prune whip or the baked, soufflé-like version.

A recipe for prune whip. The notes give no indication what kind of patient might enjoy prune whip or the baked, soufflé-like version.

The notebook first caught my eye because behind the course notes is a section that contains recipes. I am no nurse, but I can cook. However, some of these culinary delights are a little off-putting. For example, we could make “prune whip” – a dessert, the note-taker tells us. The whip, which sounds like a soufflé, is served with soft custard, for which a recipe is included. Other recipes are a little more exciting: milk punch is simply milk mixed with a bit of sugar, brandy, whiskey, and nutmeg.

Ms. Winslow’s course notes sometimes overlap with the recipes section with amusing results. One page is filled with what seems like a weird recipe until I flip a page back and realize the entry starts with class notes on bile. So we’re not going to see a combination of “gastric juice is acid” and beef, bread, peas, or potatoes featured on Top Chef any time soon. Whew!

Notes on bile and proteids. Be sure to look for the start of a note-taking entry, not just the top of the page, or your cooking may suffer.

Notes on bile and proteids. Be sure to look for the start of a note-taking entry, not just the top of the page, or your cooking may suffer.

Ms. Winslow’s notes also cover the more serious subject of unfit food for children. Included on the list are things like nuts and fried food, probably still on the banned list today. Also appearing are cabbage; game of all kinds; and “liver, kidney, smoked.” Unfortunately, this particular notebook does not share the reasoning behind banning certain foods when a child is “under four years and in most cases seven years,” although modern medicine provides justifications for many if not all. Of course, most children would not want cabbage or liver anyway.

The culinary gems are entertaining, but the notebook’s contents are mostly filled with medical science and nursing instruction from around the turn of the twentieth century. The opening entry provides step-by-step instructions on giving a hypodermic injection. Other topics include giving comfortable, clean bed baths; intravenous fluid delivery; and causes of miscarriage. My favorite entry provides details about the makeup of a potato’s layers – mineral, matter, cellulose, and starch – and then includes an experiment to show a student what the carbohydrate from a potato looks like. Do try this at home! Overall, my knowledge of medicine is not much to brag about, but I was impressed with how much the notes matched what I knew on those topics.

Notes on the potato’s nutritional make-up. At the bottom of the page, Winslow included notes on a simple experiment to distill the carbohydrates from a potato.

Notes on the potato’s nutritional make-up. At the bottom of the page, Winslow included notes on a simple experiment to distill the carbohydrates from a potato.

A knowledgeable researcher could do so much with a course notebook and cookbook, including uncovering more about its creator. To learn more about the New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing records as a whole, or the Elizabeth Winslow course notebook, please see the finding aid, or contact the Burns Library  at burnsref@bc.edu or 617-552-4861.

  • Stephanie Bennett, Archives Assistant, Archives & Manuscripts, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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