The time between May 6 and May 12 is National Nurses Week, and that seemed like a natural for A Fine Collection. Looking through our medical collections in search of nurse-related materials, I found these two pieces from Mayna Dwyer of Unity. I’ve long meant to do more research on Mayna, and this seemed like the perfect time.  (Note to fans of the history of nursing: this is not that post.  (Feel free to lobby for a future exhibit!))

Mayna Dwyer’s diploma, dated May 27, 1911, certifying that she had “completed Three Years in The National Homeopathic Hospital Training School for Nurses, and that she is now qualified to take charge of Medical, Surgical and Obstetrical Cases as a Graduate Nurse.”

Mayna Dwyer was born in 1882, the only child of Dr. John D. Dwyer (a dentist) and his wife Sue Burton Dwyer. Both Dr. and Mrs. Dwyer were from Triadelphia; Dr. Dwyer built his home, Bleakwood, in 1877 in Unity. (For those less well versed in the tiny towns of Montgomery County, Unity is just northwest of Sunshine, on Route 108; Triadelphia is, basically, underneath the Triadelphia Reservoir.  I believe Bleakwood is still standing, on Damascus Road.) Mayna was named after local doctor and friend of the family Henry Maynard of Laytonsville. Bleakwood remained Mayna’s home, on and off, for most of her life; she died in 1981.

She is not always an easy woman to trace through history. She married three times, and sometimes reverted to her maiden, or a prior married, name; census takers didn’t always know what to do with the unusual name “Mayna,” misspelling it or writing the wrong name altogether (e.g., Marion), and she sometimes went by Maynard. The items in our collections – including the diploma and certificate shown here, other archival material, and a large collection of postcards and greeting cards received by her and her mother – help make sense of the slightly confusing records.

Mayna attended the small Unity School, the Fairview Seminary in Gaithersburg, and Western Maryland College.  She married Walter Smith Lanning in 1901; they had one daughter, Sue Madesta Lanning, born in 1903. Walter and Mayna divorced shortly thereafter.

Informational circular for the Training School for Nurses, found in Mayna Dwyer’s archival collection. The name “Maynard Dwyer” is noted on the back. Click the images to enlarge and read!

In the 1910 Federal Census, Mayna Dwyer (back to her maiden name) is counted twice: once at Bleakwood with her parents and her daughter, and once as a nurse at the National Homeopathic Hospital in DC.  (The Library of Congress has several photos of the NHH Nurses Home from this era.)  The diploma indicates that she graduated in May, 1911. In June of that year she was certified as a Registered Nurse by the Nurses Examining Board of the District of Columbia.

“Be it known that Mayna Dwyer has met all requirements prescribed by law or by the Nurses Examining Board ordinances for a registered nurse and is therefore entitled to append to her name the letters R.N. to show that she is a Registered Nurse According to act of Congress approved Feb. 9 1907. [signed] . . . eighteenth day of June 1911.”

By 1920, the census shows that while Madesta is living with her grandparents at Bleakwood, “Maynard Dwyer” is working in DC as a “trained nurse, registered, in private family” (specifically, for Edward and Gertrude Long). In 1928, Mayna married a second time, to Nathaniel Elkins; the 1930 census has the newlyweds at home at Bleakwood with the widowed Mrs. Dwyer, and oral history evidence suggests that Mayna was by then retired from her nursing career. Nathaniel Elkins died in 1943. In 1950, shortly after the death of her mother, Mayna married Charles Henry Smith; he died in 1964. Mayna Dwyer Elkins Smith (she seems to have completely dropped Mr. Lanning) spent the rest of her life at Bleakwood; her 1981 obituary points out that she was survived by one daughter, three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The correspondence collection, which includes cards between Mayna and her mother as well as many cards sent to the former by friends, nursing colleagues, and relatives, will help fill in some of the gaps in this census-heavy history. They have not been completely cataloged yet, but I’ve read a few when searching for Christmas cards and the like, and I think they’ll add some fantastic details about the lives and careers of both Mayna and her equally-long-lived (1852-1949) mother. What we don’t seem to have, unfortunately, is a photo of Mayna. For now, we have only this snapshot of unidentified nurses, perhaps some of her classmates at the Homeopathic Hospital; maybe Mayna is one of these young women?