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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Gertrude Sawyer, matron at the
old Memorial Hospital, Sedro-Woolley

(Young Gertrude in nurse uniform)
Gertrude circa 1930s
Encore magazine, August/September 1989
      Near the turn of the century, bed rest was the remedy for many diseases which today are cured with medications. Typhoid fever was such a disease. In 1909, in Tacoma's old Parkland Hospital, nurses tied bed sheets to one typhoid patient to keep her quiet and in the hospital.
      That patient was the sister of Sedro-Woolley's Gertrude Sawyer, who ever since she can remember wanted to become a nurse herself. "My dad thought the nurses were mean to my sister," Sawyer recalls.
      To Sawyer's father, the memory of one of his children tied to a bed created such a bad opinion of the medical profession that Sawyer was almost denied her life's longing. The former head nurse of Sedro-Woolley's old Memorial Hospital, former nursing instructor, and principal founder of the nursing program at Skagit Valley College, [Gertrude] would have never made medicine her career if it weren't for her sister who convinced her father to let Sawyer switch from teacher to healing helper.

(Gertrude in uniform cape)
      Born on her father's North Dakota homestead at the very end of the last century, Sawyer had two brothers and five sisters. She says she remembers Steele County as a tree-filled oasis among wheat fields and prairie grass. "My dad's land was fed by natural springs," Sawyer says "It was never dry. In fact it's still watered today."
      When some of Sawyer's siblings moved out west to Washington State, her parents closed up the homestead and came out also. They moved to a small town just outside Tacoma. Sawyer says her dad liked the area well enough, but her mother hated it.
      After five years, Sawyer, her parents, and the children still at home, went back to the homestead. After graduating from high school Sawyer told her father of her wishes to become a nurse. Remembering the nursing treatment Sawyer's sister received in Tacoma, he flatly rejected the idea and said she should become a teacher instead. So after a year at Mayville State Teacher's College ("That's all that was required back then," Sawyer says), she received her certificate and traveled to North Dakota's Newburgh District Township to begin her teaching career.
      I taught for two years in a one-room school," Sawyer recalls. "The town had lovely trees, lovely homes and fields of wheat and corn. But I wanted to be a nurse. My sister finally convinced my dad to let me go to Saint Luke's (Hospital) in Fargo. She told him, 'She'll get married if you don't let her go.' My dad said, 'Well, you'd better make it snappy'."

(Gertrude at Memorial Hospital)
      Back in the 1920s there were no nursing schools in North Dakota, Sawyer says, so nursing students learned right in the hospital. In 1924 Sawyer graduated from the Saint Luke's program as a registered nurse.
      "They really put us to work," she says. "The doctors lectured us a great deal." After working for a few years at Saint Luke's, Sawyer decided she was going to use her summer to travel a bit see some other parts of{he country, and enhance her nursing education. "I intended to go to Michigan to take a class, but in June of 1930 I decided to nurse at Yellowstone (National Park)," Sawyer says. "I treated a lot of bear injuries and burns from mud geysers."
      Sawyer enjoyed her Yellowstone experience and wanted to return the next summer, but her brother-in-law, who lived in Puyallup, telegrammed Sawyer that her sister had suffered a heart attack. Sawyer traveled by train from Wyoming to Tacoma, and after nursing her sister back to health, worked for a short time in homes as a private nurse. Private nursing wasn't really Sawyer's cup of tea, so when Tacoma General Hospital needed a charge nurse, Sawyer applied for the job. After a time Sawyer heard Sedro-Woolley [Memorial Hospital] was looking for a head nurse. She came up to Skagit County to have a look around. Sawyer says she liked the little logging town located at the foot of the North Cascades. "I loved it," she remembers. "I wouldn't have changed it for anything."
      In December of 1930 Sawyer moved to Sedro-Woolley and discovered the townsfolk were as nice as the town. "The people made me feel at home," she says. Being head nurse in Sedro-Woolley meant more than supervising other nurses and keeping track of nursing schedules. "I planned meals, bought groceries, bought (prescription) drugs and was on call day and night," Sawyer says. "We all had a lot of extra things to do. I often wondered how I accomplished everything I did, that there w4e enough hours in the day."

(Gertrude older)
      After Sawyer settled in at Memorial Hospital her parents came out to visit. Her father and her mother loved the town as much as she did. In 1936, Sawyer's parents turned the homestead over to one of Sawyer's brothers, and moved to Sedro-Woolley.
      When her parents bought a house, Sawyer saved on rent by moving into one of the bedrooms. In addition to giving Sawyer a roof over her head, her parents' house provided her with a marriage. "I met my husband in the back yard," Sawyer says. "He lived across the street."
      Sawyer says she and her husband Henry never really traveled much; they enjoyed living in Sedro-Woolley and didn't see much cause to visit elsewhere. Henry Sawyer died a few years back, a heart attack victim, an affliction that Gertrude Sawyer says seemed to run in his family.
      For 22 years, as medicine progressed from "country doctoring" to a science, Sawyer worked at Memorial Hospital. She recalls one type of procedure which was complicated, difficult, and required a lengthy hospital stay. "I remember during cataract surgery I had to hold the patient's head so he wouldn't move," Sawyer says. "I told myself I'd never go through that ordeal." But years later when Sawyer needed an eye operation she was amazed it took only two hours in the doctor's office, and then she went home.
      [Article is clipped off here]

      Journal Ed. note: Gertrude was my mother's best friend for many years after my parents moved into Sedro-Woolley from the farm and bought a house just down the alley from the Sawyer house. They were in the Orthopedic Guild together here for many years and the chapter was renamed the Gertrude Sawyer Guild in her honor. I can remember so well how Gertrude cared for my mother as well as others until she was past 90. She also cared for her sister and brother at her home when they were in their 90s. At least two of her siblings lived to be 100 or more. Her old friend, Bea Johnson, looked after Gertrude until earlier this decade when Gertrude's family members moved her back to the Midwest to care for her. Meanwhile, if any reader has a copy of the Encore magazine feature on her from 1989, we would like a copy so that we can complete it from the point where it is clipped off above.

Gertrude Sawyer obituary (from Wisconsin)
      Gertrude L. Sawyer, of West Hart Road in Beloit, Wis., died Tuesday, May 13, 2003, at the age of 103. At the time of her death she lived at the Beloit Health and Rehabilitation Center in Beloit.
      Gertrude was born Oct. 11, 1899, in Sherbrook Township, Steele County, North Dakota. She was the daughter of Samuel and Karen (Dornholdt) Linn. Gertrude married Henry Sawyer on Jan. 22, 1944, in Sedro-Woolley. Henry preceded Gertrude in death on Aug. 30, 1992.
      Gertrude was a nurse and teacher. She received her training and nurse's degree at Saint Luke's Hospital in Fargo. After moving to Skagit County and heading the nursing department at the old Memorial Hospital on State Street in Sedro-woolley, she organized and taught nursing classes at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon.
      She was a member of the Toast Mistress Club, Rebecca's Elk Club Auxiliary and American Legion Auxiliary. She also was a member of the Sedro-Woolley Soroptimist group and a former member of Bethlehem Lutheran church in Sedro-Woolley and later attended the Atonement Lutheran church in Beloit. For several summers earlier in life, she was a nurse at Yellowstone Park.
      Gertrude is survived by a niece, Mrs. B.K. Kenny of Beloit, Wis., as well as other nieces, nephews and cousins. She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents and a sister, Clare Linn Larsen on Nov. 15, 1996. Arrangements are being handled by Hansen Funeral Home, 424 Prospect Street, Beloit, Wis.

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Story posted on Oct. 15, 2007 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 37 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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