The Indomitable Lucile Petry Leone: Nursing's Valiant Leader

Article excerpt

DURING THE EARLY 1960S, one of the most illustrious nurses in the world served at the presidential helm of the National League for Nursing. She was the charismatic Lucile Petty Leone, a woman of enormous drive and talent, who began her official tenure at the League at the outset of what probably became organized nursing's most productive yet controversial decade. Long before that period, Petry already could claim a number of accomplishments, having moved gracefully up the career ladder after graduating in 1929 from the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing (1). When she entered Johns Hopkins, Lucile Petry had already earned a baccalaureate degree in teaching, with a major in chemistry, from the University of Delaware. "I was fascinated with the physiological aspects," she declared, "but wanted to experience chemistry in human bodies and not in test tubes" (2, p. 9). And she did just that! Between her junior and senior years at college, she spent time in New York City working as a nurse's aide in a small hospital. At Hopkins, she acquired a solid grounding in nursing, but it was research that excited her and sparked a lifelong interest. "What I saw was blazing new discoveries in medical research," she declared. "Every time I walked down the hall, some doctor had discovered something new. This is what I came for!" (2, p. 9).

Born in 1902 in Lewisburg, Ohio, Petry grew up in a home with parents who espoused a firm belief in teaching children responsibility early in life. During summer vacations, she held jobs in a cannery, a dry goods store, and a broker's office (1). She had just turned 19 when her father moved the family to Delaware to accept a position as a high school principal. A few years later, soon after putting away her student nurse's uniform, Yale University recruited her as a clinical nurse instructor.

Before long, Lucile Petry shifted her sights westward to the University of Minnesota, where she eventually became associate professor and assistant dean, remaining there for 11 years (1). Eager to pursue graduate work, she headed for Teachers College, Columbia University, to earn a master's degree. Her studies at Teachers College were interrupted by an appointment with the U.S. Public Health Service, where she had the distinction of being the first woman administrator (1). When Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing offered her the deanship, she accepted, but took a leave of absence a month after coming on board. Dr. Thomas Parron, Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Services, had selected her to administer the newly formed Division of Nurse Education (1).

This was 1941, with the nation embroiled in World II, a perilous time in American life. Recognizing the threat to public health in light of the need to increase the supply of nurses, the government created what was to become the nursing profession's greatest challenge and most impressive recruitment effort, the Cadet Nurse Corps. In July 1943, the 78th Congress unanimously passed the Nurse Training Act (Public Law No. 740), which "assured a supply of nurses from the Armed Forces, government, and civilian hospitals, health agencies, and war industries" (3, p. 336).

The legislation creating the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was popularly known as the Bolton Act after the Ohio congresswoman who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Under the provisions of the Act, participating schools of nursing were required to accelerate their programs from three years to 24 to 30 months (3). The Corps, launched under the stewardship of Lucile Petry, generated a phenomenal response. It offered to high school graduates an education and career in nursing with an all-expense-paid scholarship and a monthly stipend ranging from $15 to $30. Before long, cadet nurses were easily spotted in their attractive gray uniforms with scarlet epaulets.

The year the Cadet Nurse Corps became operational, its director identified her production goals. …