The Magnolia Nurse: Patty Norton of Morgan County

by Helen Bradfield Shambaugh

Editor’s note: This article was published originally in the Winter 2003 issue of Goldenseal: West Virginia’s magazine of traditional life. It is reprinted here with the permission of Goldenseal and the author.

Shambaugh grew up in the community of Woodrow. She first met Patty Norton while Norton was working as a school nurse in Paw Paw and the author was a student there. The two met again during the 1950’s while Helen, her husband, and children were living in Magnolia, Morgan County.

Rural health care during the late 1940’s and 1950’s was much different than it is today. Sometimes, people lived a lifetime without ever seeing a doctor. As soon as certain immunizations became mandatory for children entering public schools, however, some help came in the form of the county health nurse, who would travel throughout a county for the purpose of immunizing children and teaching practical health care measures for the home.

Patty Norton of Morgan County was one such nurse. She  lived in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia for most of her life. Throughout her career, she devoted herself to the people of this region and their health care needs.

Patricia “Patty” Jane Feeney Norton was born November 4, 1913 at the family homeplace in the Mapleside area of Cumberland, Maryland. She graduated from St. Mary’s High School and entered the Allegheny Hospital School of Nursing of Cumberland, graduating from there in August 1934. She was awarded her R.N. degree in October 1935. Patty then worked on the maternity ward and was a private-duty nurse at Allegheny Hospital.

On June 22, 1936, Patty married James B. “Jim” Norton of Paw Paw, Morgan County. The newlyweds built a house on Jackson Street in Paw Paw, where they began rais­ing a family that would e

ventually grow to include three sons. In 1947, the Nortons moved a few miles across the Hampshire County line to the small community of Pin Oak. My family lived at Pin Oak at the time, and this is how I first came to know Patty.

In January 1949, Patty was appointed Morgan County Health Nurse, serving Cacapon District and the Paw Paw area. In this role, she traveled from school to school and from community to community throughout all of Morgan County. It would take a book to tell all of Patty’s experiences, but one unique phase of her work as county health nurse took place in the town of Magnolia during the 1950’s.

Nestled deep in a valley between the mountains and the Potomac River, Magnolia is a small, isolated railroading community. It was once a thriving town with doctors, dentists, a bakery, churches, and various stores after a section of the B&O railroad was built through there in 1914. Nearly wiped out by the 1936 flood, Magnolia never fully recovered.

My late husband Lindy M. Shambaugh was from Magnolia. He worked for the B&O there before serving in the military in World War II. Upon being discharged from the Army and getting his work rights restored, Lindy regained his position as trackman with the railroad and was stationed back at Magnolia. So, we went there to live in May 1948.

The only telephone in Magnolia at the time was the railroad phone in the home of a B&O track foreman. There was no electricity in any of the homes until 1956. There were still no private residential telephones when our family moved from there in 1960.

When Patty began her work at Magnolia, there was one county road then unpaved leading into the village. This road, with deep ravines off the sides, climbed and descended steep ridges winding sinuously along Sideling Mountain for seven miles down into Magnolia. The road ended at a cemetery at the lower end of Magnolia, and the only way to leave was to turn and go back the way you came.

Around 30 or 40 families resided in Magnolia at that time. The two-room school was closed after the 1951 school term, and students were transported by bus to Paw Paw. There was one church served by a circuit preacher and one small grocery store owned and operated by C. I. Effland.

So, when Patty Norton needed a place at Magnolia from which to conduct her monthly well-child clinics, she asked if she might come to our home. We readily agreed. Once a month, Patty came from her office on the second floor of what was then the Paw Paw firehouse. Providing company on the trip and helping Patty with record keeping was Tiny Delawder. Sometimes, one or more of Patty or Tiny’s children came along, as well.

“I remember when that was nothing but an old dirt road,” says Tiny Delawder. “How we would lean for the sharp curves going around that mountain! Patty had an old bag of some sort that she carried her medical supplies in. We would load scales and other supplies in the back [of the car], along with whichever of our kids happened to be going with us.”

When Patty arrived at our home, she would enlist help carrying equipment into the house. Scales for weighing infants were set up on my kitchen table, and adult scales were set on the kitchen floor.

Mothers of the Magnolia community, and sometimes from as far away as Great Cacapon, came with their children. Some of these people had been born and raised in Magnolia. Rather than going to the monthly clinics at Berkeley Springs, which would have been a much shorter drive for them, they came across Sideling Mountain to Magnolia. In addition to seeing Patty Norton, this was also a chance for them to visit with family and friends who still lived in the area.

Patty sometimes handed out free vitamins and any health care brochures she could bring. She gave instructions for using medications and remedies for everything from how to mix baby formulas to curing impetigo. She gave dietary advice, including handing out recipes and healthy menus to encourage better diets. Prenatal and post­natal care and information were given to expectant and new mothers. Advising a doctor’s care when finding the need, she sometimes referred patients to the crippled children’s clinic at Martinsburg. Patty checked blood pressures, tended minor injuries, and taught sanitation practices.

Explaining the dangers of communicable diseases such as whoop­ng cough, diphtheria, smallpox, measles, and polio, as well as warning of the danger of tetanus, she administered immunizations. If a child howled while receiving a shot, Patty would smile ruefully and say, “Oh no! I’m sorry. Now you won’t want to be Patty’s friend. But I don’t want you to be sick.”

Children played together while they waited their turn to be examined. Mothers exchanged the latest family and community news. A life insurance agent from Paw Paw would try to make it to Magnolia on clinic day to collect monthly premium payments. Catching many of his clients at this one location saved him having to drive to their individual homes. Ladies brought their insurance premium books along, so that he could mark them paid.

With no phones and few cars in Magnolia, communication with our children’s school in Paw Paw was rather poor, sometimes causing misunderstandings between teachers and parents. In her capacity as county health nurse, Patty also served as on-site school nurse at Paw Paw. When she came to conduct her clinics at Magnolia, Patty would bring us up to date on the latest school developments, some­times acting as a tactful go-between for parents and teachers. She would advise us of any epidemics or other horrors, such as head lice or other communicable outbreaks, at the school and would teach us preventative measures and cures. Realizing that it could benefit everyone involved, Patty and Tiny used the school’s mimeograph machine and printed a small monthly newsletter to send home with the children, giving well-child clinic dates, explaining new school policies, and telling of upcoming events at the school.

People trusted Patty. She always had a ready ear as a counselor and confidante and was sometimes told of personal situations. While professional in her work ethics and stern when administering crucial medical advice, she also laughed and cried with us. Patty never belittled a health care problem. Telling us that no question was too unimportant or ridiculous to ask, she would say, “Remember, I had to learn all of this, too.”

Some people attending the clinic at Magnolia did not immediately leave when their health care needs had been met, but stayed until Patty had gone for the day. At summer’s end, we had picnics on clinic days. We set out tables beneath the huge maples in our front yard. Mothers, as well as Patty and Tiny, brought favorite foods to share.

For several years, the clinic was conducted in our home. Later, Patty set up at other homes in the community, taking turns with other Magnolia families who attended the clinics. Today, whenever folks from those days in Magnolia meet for a reunion or other social event, someone will say, “Remember when Patty came to have the clinic?” Then we all laugh at memories of Patty, recalling how she sometimes had to help a parent pull a reluctant child from beneath the kitchen table to receive an immunization, or how she gently chided and gave rueful looks when her instructions for health care had not been obeyed.

Patty retired in 1975, but remained active with many worth­while volunteer projects over the years. Patty is an honor to her profession, her community, and her state.

Helen Bradfield Shambaugh lives in Paw Paw. She is the mother of seven and has 10 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. She and is the author of several Goldenseal articles, poems and plays. She has written for newspapers and magazines and is a 40-year contributor to Standard Publishing Company’s writing seasonal church programs, recitations, poems and other material.