Nursing an interest

A home full of old books shows how two nurses made their profession a hobby
Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:59 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A dozen years ago, Marcia Flesner, a clinical instructor at the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and president of District 7 of the Missouri Nurses Association, started collecting nursing books published before the 1950s with her partner, Diane Spalding.

By then, Spalding, a nurse practitioner, had been collecting old nursing books for years, and Flesner was drawn into Spalding’s collector’s world.

Today, their home brims with books.

“Right now, we have two bookcases that are of nothing but old nursing books that are either biographies or histories of nursing,” Flesner said. “And then we’ve got, of course, a lot of old textbooks on nursing. We also have books that are called the ‘State Board Questions for Nurses.’ ”

Spalding started out her collection with books by Florence Nightingale, called the mother of nursing, and also books about her. The collection was expanded to books by and about other nursing contributors, including Lillian Wald, the first public nurse, and Mary Breckinridge, who established a frontier nursing service in Kentucky.

“I’ve always loved history,” Flesner said. “By collecting the books that we collected and buying the things that we bought over the years, it’s like a piece of our past that I’m very impressed with.”

Two of their prize books are Nightingale’s autographed “Natural Law in the Spiritual World” and “Notes on Nursing,” one of Nightingale’s first books, published in the 1860s.

“The two Nightingale books and our cats are what we’d grab when emergency strikes,” Flesner said.

But in the case of the books, they would grab those two only because of their value; other books are dearer to them. Spalding favors E.T. Cook’s two sets of books on Florence Nightingale, and Flesner prefers Lavinia Dock’s “Materia Medica for Nurses,” a late 19th-century textbook about pharmacology and medicines for nurses.

“Nurses at that time were not taught about medication,” Flesner said. “Lavinia thought that was not appropriate, so she went and wrote her own pharmacology book.”

Flesner and Spalding, whose goal is to find first editions, have one of the first 1,000 copies that Dock had published by herself in 1891. They also have more than 90 books of the famous Cherry Ames nursing series for young readers, including a complete yellow set and a complete green set (the colors designate different editions).


MU nursing instructor Marcia Flesner has collected nursing books published before the 1950s and memorabilia with her partner, Diane Spalding, for about 12 years.(JESSE CHAPMAN/Missourian)

In addition to their collection, Flesner and Spalding keep a research book to track down what they already have and what they are still hunting for.

“After awhile … you don’t want to waste your money and only buy what you need as oppose to buying everything,” Flesner said. “We try to figure out where we are in the process.”

Flesner and Spalding’s nursing antiques collection also includes a full bookshelf of old nursing series for children, such as “Kathy Matin Nurse Stories,” “Nurses Three” by Jean Kirby and the “Jean Craig” series by Kay Lyttelton.

They also keep a collection of old nursing comics — including a rare copy of “Nellie the Nurse” Issue No.1, published back when comic books were 10 cents an issue.

Other nursing antiques they have collected include magazine covers about nursing, old nursing stamps and envelopes with the issue date stamp, old nursing pins, a nurse doll set, a Barbie nurse with a nurse outfit made in the 1970s and a metal version of the first nursing stamp.

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