How often do you think about the nurses that attend to you at the doctor’s office or during a hospital stay? “There was a time when nursing was celebrated in song and verse,” writes Melodie Chenevert, accomplished registered nurse and founder of the Lost Art of Nursing Museum in Cannon Beach. “When world famous artists were commissioned to capture nurses on canvas. When nurses were cover girls, wrote advice columns for popular magazines and endorsed products. There was a time when it was bold, noble and patriotic to be a nurse.”
The museum of heartfelt collected items represents Melodie’s career, one she didn’t originally choose. “I wanted to be a writer, but it was not a practical career,” Meloide explains. “When I graduated high school, smart young women were encouraged to be either a teacher or a nurse. I had a math and science background and I could dissect things in class without getting sick so I was encouraged to be a nurse. I said where do I sign up.”
Where Two Passions Collide
After growing up in Iowa, she graduated from Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota in 1963 where she was encouraged to continue her education at the University of Washington. “I packed up my VW Bug and headed west,” she says. “In the spring of 1965, Cannon Beach was the first place I ever saw the ocean and I was immediately smitten with the town and desperately wanted to live here, but shortly after I met the ocean I met my husband Gary who was a nuclear physicist. I followed Gary and his career so whenever we moved I plugged myself into the nursing community.”
Before settling on the east coast for the better part of three decades, Melodie and her family resided in the Washington State for nine years. “We rented a house on T and the Prom, the boys went to Seaside School District for the year and in 1982 I set up the Clatsop Community College nursing program,” she says.
Early in her career she worked in multiple medical institutions, achieved her Master of Sciences in Nursing and became a professor at the University of Wisconsin. She then returned to school full time to pursue a doctorate degree while raising two young children with Gary. “Part way through the program I had one of those watershed moments, an encounter that changes your life,” she shares. “I asked myself do I want to be a writer or be a researcher and there was no contest, I wanted to be a writer. So I switched majors and published my master’s thesis for Journalism as my first book. It was on assertiveness on women in health professions and was in print for over 30 years.”
Authoring multiple books that were translated into Japanese, German, Spanish and French, Melodie transitioned into public speaking as well. She conducted over 1,000 presentations across Canada, Japan, England, Australia and every state but Hawaii. “Now I’ve landed here, in Cannon Beach, in the place I’ve wanted to live for my entire life, and opened a museum about nursing,” Melodie exclaims.
Living in a Museum
For the past 40 years Melodie has been collecting nursing-related artifacts throughout her own nursing career and were originally displayed in her office. “Now my grandchildren get a kick of saying that their grandma lives in a museum, I am definitely old enough to live in a museum,” she jokes.
The Lost Art of Nursing Museum resides in the bottom portion of her home and expands throughout multiple rooms, including the restroom. Displays include a collection of Melodie’s published works and some of her own nursing career historical pieces, framed artwork from war-era programs and unique oil paintings created by Melodie’s sister in-law, Winona Chenevert. One of the paintings named “Nursing Courage Heart and Brains” was inspired by her love of working in a pediatric unit. “I was tired of seeing bumper stickers that said ‘nursing is the heart of healthcare,’ because it takes so much more than a good heart as a nurse,” explains Melodie. “It takes courage, heart and brains too.”
From the front room a record player warbles classic music about nurses including, “I Don’t Want to Get Well I’m in Love with a Beautiful Nurse.” She flipped through select cover art and lyrics from her music collection and highlighted “The Rose of No Man’s Land” by James Caddigan. “’Mid the war’s great curse stands the Red Cross Nurse, she’s the rose of No Man’s Land’ It was the most famous song of WWI and after the war was over, a lot of soldiers attempted to locate the nurses that took care of them and send them a rose,” explains Melodie.
There are a lot of WWI and WWII artifacts featured because nurses were revered during war-era times. A series known as the Cherry Ames books began in 1943 as part of the war effort to interest young women in the nursing profession.
The 1960s the nursing profession began to see noticeable change and fall out of the limelight. Red Cross no longer featured nurses in advertising campaigns, the uniform of the nurse changed from historical capes and caps to generic uniforms, and the industry began to evolve on a business level. “One of the reasons I call this collection the Lost Art of Nursing is because so much of what is in the museum was just thrown away,” Melodie shares.
Another highlight of the museum is a collection of uniform pieces, old photographs, and artifacts from Irene English that came to the museum from a current Arch Cape Resident who thought the museum would be a perfect fit for the collection. Irene worked as director of the nursing program in Rochester, Minnesota from 1923-1938. When she retired, she moved her family to Arch Cape where many of her family members remain. “What are the odds that I would come to Cannon Beach, open up a little nursing museum and end up with artifacts from a director of my nursing school,” says Melodie.
The Lost Art of Nursing Museum is open by appointment year round and hosts a Nurses Week Celebration the second weekend in May. Admission is free and Melodie gives an outstanding tour. To schedule call 503-436-4013 or email email@example.com.