By Betty Borenstein Scher ‘50
Mabel I. Wilcox, class of 1911, was the first Hopkins Nursing graduate from Hawaii. But it was far from easy for her. Although she always had felt that nursing was her career-to-be, her wealthy and influential parents considered nursing “unladylike” and refused to consent to her desire. Finally, they agreed that if she still wanted to pursue nursing when she was 25 years old, they would consent. Of course, Mabel already had applied to Hopkins and been accepted; however, she waited until she was 25 years old and entered the first class after that birthday.
After graduating and working for a few years in public health, she returned to Hawaii and set to work revolutionizing healthcare on her home island of Kauai. First she convinced residents to be treated for tuberculosis, and through her efforts the disease was wiped out on the island.
When World War I began, she became a Red Cross nurse and took a group of 15 nurse aides to Europe to help refugee children and civilian populations. She then served 18 months as a head nurse in France and Belgium with part of this service “directly behind the firing lines in Belgium.” For her work she received medals from the Queen of Belgium and from the city of Le Havre in France.
Upon her return to Kauai she resumed working in public health. She created and led the Tuberculosis and Health Association. She also helped form the Kauai Nurses Association and became its first president, serving for 14 years. She improved prenatal and maternal care for women and their children and established classes for midwives in the area. Equally important, Kauai got its needed separate TB hospital after “Miss Mabel talked to Uncle Albert and Aunt Emma,” who gave the money to build the hospital for tuberculosis patients.
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