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Helen Dore Boylston: Nurse From New Hampshire

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Helen Dore Boylston created two career series for girls: she built on her own nursing experiences to craft the Sue Barton series, and enlisted the aid of actress Eva Le Gallienne to develop the theatrical milieu of the Carol Page series.

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on April 4, 1895, Helen Dore Boylston spent a happy childhood there until leaving to attend Simmons College in Boston; after a year at Simmons she attended Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing. After graduating in 1915, she promptly enlisted in the Harvard Medical Unit and served as an anesthesiologist with the British Expeditionary Force in France during World War I, achieving the rank of captain. Her first book, "Sister": The War Diary of a Nurse (1927), detailed her wartime experiences.


After the Armistice ended hostilities on November 11, 1918, instead of returning to civilian life, Boylston joined the Red Cross and spent several years in Europe, living and working in Albania, Germany, and Italy. During this time she met Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder (who would later write the popular Little House books); Lane was a reporter covering the postwar reconstruction in Europe. The two women became close friends, and in 1926 they--and their French maid--took an extended trip across Europe in an auto they named Zenobia; their diary of the excursion was published as Travels With Zenobia: Paris to Albania by Model T Ford in 1982. Back in the United States, Boylston was a long-term guest at the Wilders' Rocky Ridge farm in Missouri.

Boylston served as the head of an outpatient department and an instructor in anesthesiology back at Massachusetts General Hospital; she also worked as a psychiatric nurse in New York City and a head nurse in a Connecticut hospital. In the late 1920s she turned increasingly to writing, publishing her wartime memoirs, as well as stories and magazine articles.

She published the first of her seven Sue Barton stories in 1936: Sue Barton, Student Nurse, with the help of Jane Ayer Cobb [Berry] (1915-1979); Boylston in Sue Barton, Senior Nurse thanked Cobb, "whose criticism and knowledge of modern young conversation have been invaluable, both in this book and in the volume preceding it." Indeed, the casual, natural dialog is generally regarded as a great strength of the series.

The stories followed redheaded Sue Barton as she--like her author--left her cozy New Hampshire home for a big-city nursing school, then progressed through her rocky romance with intern Bill Barry, marriage, and motherhood. The books offered a generally realistic but not graphic depiction of nursing and its challenges, as well as of a young, determined woman's struggle to maintain her independence.

After writing five Sue Barton books, Boylston began a new series in 1941, this time about aspiring actress Carol Page. She turned to her friend and neighbor Eva Le Gallienne, the noted actress, for help. Le Gallienne invited her to spend several months as a backstage observer in her theater; by watching the behind-the-scenes activities and rehearsals and preparations, Boylston was able to lend realism to her depiction of Carol Page's struggles to become an actress in a series of four books.

Though she had effectively ended the Sue Barton series with Sue's marriage and announcement of an expected baby in book five, Sue Barton, Superintendent of Nurses, Boylston added two more books to the series in 1950 and 1953, detailing Sue's family life and attendant problems. She also wrote a young adult biography of Civil War nurse Clara Barton (Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross, 1955).

Boylston spent her last years in a nursing home in Trumbull, Connecticut. She died there on September 30, 1984, at the age of eighty-nine.


Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved.

Read more about Helen Dore Boylston:
Sue Barton
Summary information about the seven books of the Sue Barton series.

Read more about fictional nurses:
Patriotism and Propaganda in Girls' Series: Fictional Nurses of World War II

The Cherry Ames Page
Information not only about Cherry Ames, but also about Kathy Martin, Nurses Three, Penny Marsh, and more.



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