Back in the pre-feminist dark ages prior to the 1960s, there weren’t quite so many career options available to women as there are today, and those not as well paid as the traditionally male careers–“domestic service”, clerical office work, retail sales or the ‘professions’ of nursing, teaching, librarianship–and even then, the assumption among both genders was all too often that they would stop working after marriage, as their husband was presumed to support them, but certainly stop after they had children. Under the circumstances, becoming a nurse was indeed something admirable to which girls might aspire!
She begins as an eighteen year old student nurse, and works her way through school and a couple of years as an Army nurse during World War II before returning Stateside and holding down a series of short-term jobs around the country and abroad–one posting per book–for over twenty books.
Formulaic series? you betcha. The books rapidly settle into a pattern typical of the series as a whole: Cherry moves on to a new job in a new location, with most of the typical tropes: a “catch” of a man falls in love with her and proposes marriage, she adores a pathetic child, gets into trouble with her supervisors through a misunderstanding of her desire to do good and aid others through her nursing training, and finds (and solves) a mystery. This is, however, a series I keep coming back to because, while overall the books are stereotyped by modern standards, a running theme throughout is Cherry’s determination and commitment to her nursing career, rather than just regarding it as a preliminary adjunct to Finding a Man. Over the course of the series, she turns down several proposals of marriage preferring to work and see the world prior to deciding whether she wishes to marry. Indeed, in Cherry Ames, Veterans’ Nurse, her current beau du jour (livre?) flounces off in a snit when she rescues him from drowning after a canoe accident after what he intended to be a romantic apology for abandoning her the day before for her father’s Manly Company for an entire evening.
Keep in mind, though, that these books were written sixty to seventy years ago. They are most kindly described as “quaint” these days, both in terms of medicine and nursing practices, and women’s roles in society. They may have been progressive for the time they were written. Considered by the standards of modern tween literature, I’d suggest giving children for whom I was responsible a caveat about how much women’s choices have improved since then, not to mention their rights to their own finances. It’s not the sort of thing I’d recommend across the board to modern libraries; the more limited the library’s space, the less they’re worth keeping especially if copies already in the collection aren’t being read on a regular basis.
What else to read if you like these, for kids who’ve outgrown the Boxcar and Happy Hollister series, but aren’t quite ready (emotionally or literariness) to move on to more complex mature works? The Cherry Ames series isn’t the only series about girls with careers in the 1940s and ’50s–there’s also the Sue Barton and Vicki Barr2 books–much less series for girls of the time about brave adventurous girls1. Other series with a similar tone and assumed readership are Nancy Drew and Dana Girls, for those of us who like the mystery component. The Trixie Belden series3 might be nice for younger readers;it’s written by Julie Tatham, who wrote some of the Cherry Ames books. Keep an eye out for anything by Mildred A. Wirt Benson: she’s the ghostwriter for the early Nancy Drew mysteries under the Carolyn Keene pseudonym owned by the Stratemeyer syndicate that produced other similar series in the 1930s and 1940s.
1at least by contemporary standards
2also by Helen Wells
3tomboyish heroine, pre-teen and therefore younger than Nancy Drew