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School of Nursing

here’s no question that nursing has changed in the past century. Sixty to 70 years ago, nurses were often in the employ of well-to-do patients who needed postoperative, rehabilitative, or home care since few nursing graduates were employed by hospitals.
     Alice Horton McCurdy, 34N, one of the oldest alumni from the School of Nursing, was among them. Now 93, the grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of two still uses the nursing skills and instincts she learned at Emory to help care for family members scattered across the country.
     McCurdy’s love of nursing began at a young age. Her father was a pharmacist who died of tuberculosis when she was 4. As a result, she was raised in South Carolina by her uncle, Dr. Clinton C. Horton, a 1914 Atlanta Medical College (now Emory School of Medicine) graduate and country doctor, who encouraged her to attend nursing school. “I had a choice of Johns Hopkins or Emory,” she remembers. “Emory was a beautiful school and closer to home.”
     Like other student nurses, McCurdy attended class during the day and worked nights and weekends at Emory University Hospital as payment for attending nursing school (students paid no tuition then). The students’ day and night supervisors were the only professional nurses employed by the hospital.
     During her freshman year, Dr. Willis T. McCurdy, a Medical College of Georgia graduate, stood in front of the hospital with the other interns, greeting the new nurses. His gaze fell on the red-haired Alice, whom he would later marry. McCurdy began his career as a general practitioner in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a practice he shared with his father, William, an 1898 Atlanta Medical College graduate, and two other family members.
     After graduating from Emory University Hospital School of Nursing in 1934, Alice became a member of the Fifth District Georgia State Nurses Association’s professional registry of graduate nurses. “In those days, there were no recovery rooms or intensive care units in the six major hospitals in Atlanta,” remembers Edith Honeycutt, 39N, 04H, a former colleague. “When most of the students graduated, they joined the registry and became private duty nurses on call for the various hospitals. These graduate nurses provided both inpatient and home care to surgery patients, who paid the nurses out of their own pockets.”
     In the hospital, graduate nurses attended to patients as they recovered from anesthetic. “The patients were very nauseated and often vomited before they were awake,” explains Honeycutt, who did private duty nursing for the Woodruff family, including Coca-Cola leader and Emory philanthropist Robert W. Woodruff. “They could have aspirated without the nurse’s vigilance.”
     One of McCurdy’s most memorable private duty patients was Emily Woodruff, Robert’s mother. “Bob Woodruff took me in as one of the family,” McCurdy says. “They were very nice people.” They honored McCurdy for her nursing care with a gold watch, engraved, “To Little Alice with Love and Appreciation.”
     While a private duty nurse, McCurdy served the war effort as an American Red Cross volunteer. By the time she married in 1944, about 70,000 Red Cross nurses had collected nearly 13.4 million pints of blood for the wounded. McCurdy was one of these nurses, serving as an assistant supervisor for the Atlanta unit and traveling across the state as needed to collect blood. She also helped her husband maintain a small after-hours office in their Stone Mountain home. She provided immunizations, especially during flu season, and took blood pressures, temperatures, and medical histories. It was a busy, demanding time.
“Willis delivered so many babies during World War II that he never slept,” McCurdy says. “He got sick and lost all of his hair, which came back white and wavy.”
     After the war, McCurdy had two children, Harla McCurdy Brown, who now lives in Pittsburgh, and Jim McCurdy, 71C, 73G. While they were growing up, Alice primarily worked in the home office, helped with school vaccinations, and was active in Emory’s Nurses Alumni Association. The home office never closed.
     “Having a patient suffering from the DTs [delirium tremens] knock on the door in the middle of the night does make an impression on small children,” son Jim recalls.
     “It was interesting having a physician for a father and a nurse for a mother,” adds Brown. “They would threaten us with a B12 shot when we got sick.”
     In the 1970s, their mother nursed their father, who suffered from heart disease and emphysema, until his death in 1977. She still lives in their century-old home in Stone Mountain with her son.
     It’s fitting that someone who has lived nearly a century—and who has many ties to Emory—is giving back to her professional roots. McCurdy is the first person to contribute to the Centennial Fund, a special, one-time giving opportunity in honor of the nursing school’s 100th anniversary. Her reason is pure and simple. “Emory is my school, and I have always loved Emory.”

Lee Jenkins is an Atlanta freelance writer.

Providing a Legacy for the Next Century

Because Alice McCurdy, 34N, appreciates the nursing education she received at Emory, she has transferred some of her Coca-Cola stock to the School of Nursing to benefit nursing scholarships.
     Her donation is the lead gift to the Centennial Fund. Through this fund, alumni and others may provide major one-time gifts for scholarships and new initiatives for the School of Nursing in honor of its 100th anniversary. These gifts may include endowments and significant contributions for scholarships, nursing education, teaching, research, and facilities. All gifts will ensure that the School of Nursing continues its rise as a national leader in nursing education, research, and clinical practice and as an advocate and resource for specific health issues affecting the nursing workforce and heath care delivery around the world.
     To learn more about how to support the Centennial Fund, contact Kim Julian at (404) 727-6185, (877) 676-0004 (toll free), or


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