(divers locales): 1947 - 1991. The core of the collection dates 1953 - 1980. The archive's material is in Very Good condition, with no mold, water, or insect damage. Item #50638
This phenomenal collection consists of 894 letters, postcards, and greeting cards, 27 loose clippings, three church pamphlets, and two black and white school portrait photos. The letters are primarily to and from Martha Lee Newman Westgate (born 1935). Originally from rural Lavalette, West Virginia, Martha Lee Newman graduated from the University of Cincinnati School of Nursing in 1956 and obtained a master's degree in pediatric nursing from the same university in 1965. The highlight of her nursing career was her time working at hospitals in Australia in 1965-1966. Martha was a keen observer of places and people and wrote about her experiences both in the U.S. and Australia with perceptiveness and great good humor. Of particular interest in her Australia letters are her descriptions of how the nursing staff of the hospitals she worked at were organized and run on a day-to-day basis. Her work experience in the U.S. had not prepared her for the structured, almost stifling environment that the nurses were subjected to in Australia.
Many of the early letters (circa 1951-1956) are from Martha to her sister Dorothy ("Dot," born 1933), who was studying nursing at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. In addition to the sisters writing to each other, correspondents are principally their mother, Mrs. Buford G. Newman ("Bee," nee Jenevie Hetzer, born 1915), and occasionally their grandmother Mrs. B. F. Newman ("Mommie," probably Mary Mae Newman, 1882-1971.). Much of the content from Bee and Mommie has to do with family and neighbors, and doings around the family farm, which appears to be primarily in the business of raising chickens.
The sisters' letters to each other from their respective colleges sometimes show how different their own lives have become from those of their family. On August 27, 1952, as Martha prepares to enter her freshman year in college, Dot writes, "I would say go through 'rush.' It's an experience. See how many kids you can get, etc!" Two days later, Martha answers, "Mother & Daddy don't completely understand 'rush." I tried to explain... Oh well, you know."
Despite the everyday matters addressed in the letters, there are occasional references to the larger world. On September 25, 1952, Bee writes that "Ike was in Huntington (Spoke from train platform) ..." And later in the letter, "We were very much impressed with Sen. Nixon. We heard his speech night before last." Bee appears to be an avid television watcher. A letter of October 8, 1952 open with the sentence, "Dear M[artha] Lee, I'll start this letter but Arthur Godfrey is on and Kraft follows so I'll have to write spasmodic."
The letters from the early 1950s tend to focus on the sister's experiences in college, for example, Martha's mother encouraging her not to take her instructors' criticism personally, or the sisters' laments to each other about the onerousness of their studies, and the lack of suitable male companionship. In one letter, from February 1954, reminds us of the reality of life in the 1950s United States. Dot writes to Martha: "I am going to the state YWCA conference at Frankfurt this weekend. It's on the Ky. State campus (colored)... Berea and Ky. State are the only colleges who will accommodate a bi-racial group."
Despite Dot having started college earlier than Martha, both women graduate with their nursing degrees in 1956. In late 1958, Dot moves to New York City to continue her education - it is not clear at which institution. Her letters from the city describe things that a reader might expect: the lights on the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and in March, the Saint Patrick's Day parade.
There is little material from the second half of 1959 to 1964. It is unclear why Martha Newman decided to move temporarily to Australia, but she had at least one friend who had visited the country in the early 1960s, and another friend, Gay, with whom Martha travels, appears to be Australian. Whatever her motivation, Martha left for Australia in early 1965, and took a six-month position at Adelaide Children's Hospital in North Adelaide, South Australia.
Martha's writes about her first day at the new job was February 3, 1965. She laments, "...the people on the ward don't really know what to do with me." She finds the nomenclature used for common things, and the diet, and even the toilets unusual and difficult to get used to, and she clearly feels underutilized, treated as a student rather than a professional. But a few days later, she writes, "My discontent was obvious enough that a few people took action..." Nevertheless, she is still not completely satisfied with the post: "They are many many years behind the U.S." She appears to be disenchanted with the hospital from the beginning. On February 16, 1965, she writes, "Beginning my 3rd week -- only 23 more to go!"
Her early letters give detailed descriptions of her duties at the hospital, her "culture shock," and her activities in her time off. Eventually she develops friendships with her co-workers, and in June 1965 she goes with a friend, Sue, to Renmark, a town on the Murray River east of Adelaide. In her travels, she writes detailed descriptions of the scenery and towns, and vivid (and sometimes uncharitable) descriptions of the people she meets.
When her contact in Adelaide expires in July 1965, she celebrates her "freedom" by doing some traveling, including a brief period rooming with several other young women at a place called Bishop's House, in Gladstone, South Australia, and a few days at the Travelers' Aid Society in Perth. During this time, she writes, "Really seeing now what is Australia - away from the city." In the meantime, her visa is renewed for another six months, and she is free to find any kind of job she can. Even though she is not restricted to nursing, she applies for and is given a job at Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth. "I have a profession - may as well use it, I'd probably make a lousy secretary or barmaid anyway," she writes.
In September, after dispute with the house matron of the nurses' dormitory where she lives, she resolves to move out of "this cellblock," and with a roommate, rents and apartment in Busselton, South Australia. As in all of her letters, Martha gives vivid accounts of her time in Busselton, describing the wildlife, her friends, and a brush fire. By early 1966, Martha resolves to return to the U.S. She sails of a German freighter, the MS Cap Verde on April 30, 1966, and arrives in the United States on June 2.
(In the case of the Australia correspondence, letters from Martha's mother are also included in the collection. This is the only instance of both sides of a two-way correspondence being present in the collection.)
After her return from Australia, on September 18, 1971, Martha married John Westgate (1929-2004) and settled in Portland, Oregon. There is gap in correspondence from 1966 until 1970. The small group of letters from 1970 are to Dorothy Burge Westgate (1904-1985), Martha's mother-in-law, apparently from friends and members of her family. It appears that letters from this period to "Dorothy" are to Dorothy Westgate; there does not appear to be any material to or from Dorothy Newman, except for one typed letter Bee addresses to both daughters.
After 1973, the bulk of the remaining letters are addressed to Martha, or to "Mr. and Mrs. John Westgate. This material includes 204 letters to Martha from friends in Australia, dated from the 1970s to the 1980s. Many of the letters are from "G. Darlington," who may be "Gay," with whom Martha spent time in the U.S. and Australia in the 1960s. Letters from 1984 hint that Martha planned a trip to Australia and may have taken one. This however, is conjecture as there are no letters sent by Martha from Australia from during this period.
Other letters to Martha and John during the 1970s to the 1990s are from family and friends, by this time scattered throughout the U.S. with some members still apparently living in West Virginia. The letters provide family news, often relating to health matters as Martha and her contemporaries age. Also, in 1982, are a series of letters from Bee describing the problems she has had with her second husband, Carle (sic) Hunt, and her reasons for leaving him.
Overall, this is an extraordinarily rich archive, covering many facets of life in the U.S. in the second half of 20th century, as members of a rural family adapt to realities of higher education, city life, and international travel. It also provides an outsider's perspective on life in Australia in the mid-1960s, and in its earliest material gives insight into the study and practice of the nursing profession both in the U.S. and Australia.