Cherry Ames Nurse Stories

I first became acquainted with Cherry Ames shortly after graduating from high school, when I paid a dime for a battered and faded copy of the original wartime edition of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, first published by Grosset & Dunlap, Inc. in 1943. This was in the mid-1970s, when the nurses in my area were still wearing the traditional white uniform dress and white cap.

I’d always considered nursing to be a glamorous career, for you got to wear the easily recognized nurses’ whites, and spent your work day caring for the sick and injured – who (I was sure) couldn’t help but be grateful for all of your selfless efforts. Reading about the attractive dark-haired eighteen-year-old student, who got her nickname from her rosy cheeks, was a pleasant experience, but I had no immediate plans to try and learn more about her.

A few months later I stopped at a yard sale, and saw three more battered and faded-red wartime novels – Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse (1944), Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse (1944) and Cherry Ames, Veterans’ Nurse (1946). Wow, three more Cherry Ames’ books, and not one of them the volume I’d already purchased. That had to be a sign I was meant to obtain more of the series. (Book collectors will note the first step into addiction – it wasn’t my fault … I had to buy it … )

None of my first Cherry Ames books had a listing of other titles, so I thought I’d come upon a wartime-only series, that had not continued for more than a year or two after the end of the second World War. I was also unaware that the volumes originally had book covers.

In Senior Nurse Cherry graduated after three years of schooling at Spencer Hospital, and her entire class of 60 volunteered to enlist as Army Nurses. In Chief Nurse Lieutenant Ames had been wearing the olive drab uniform of the Army Nurse Corps for only four months when she was promoted to the rank of acting Chief Nurse of an evacuation hospital on Pacific Island 14 – despite her commanding officer believing her to be too young and attractive for such a responsibility. In Veterans’ Nurse Cherry comes home to Hilton, Illinois, to finish her enlistment working in a near-by Army rehabilitation hospital. At the end of the volume plucky Cherry didn’t know what would come after her Army days.

These were all nursing stories, with just a hint of mystery and intrigue directly related to Cherry’s training, war time experiences, or the vanity of a civilian doctor who’d stop at nothing to get more honor than was his due. Cherry’s high-ethical-standards led her to investigate possible wrong doings, even if that meant disregarding warnings from her supervisors or commanding officers.

It was perhaps a decade later when I next met up with the young nurse who loved her chosen career. I found another battered book, this one an ex-library copy with a picture cover and a strip of mending tape hiding the once yellow spine of Cherry Ames Country Doctor’s Nurse, copyright 1955 by Grosset & Dunlap, Inc. This book had a back cover showing a pretty nurse wearing white uniform, cap, stockings and shoes, plus a dashing dark-colored nurses’ cape. Alongside the picture was a blurb telling me at least a million girls knew and admired Cherry Ames, plus there was a listing of twenty-two book titles.

That’s when I knew this was an important series, so now would be a good time for me to formally introduce you to the world of Cherry Ames Nurse Stories.

Many children’s and young adult book series are created by the publishing house, and several ghost writers are assigned to write sketched-out stories attributed to a pseudonym author. That’s not the case with Cherry Ames. She was created by Helen Wells, who was born March 20, 1910 in Danville, Illinois. Her family moved to New York City when she was seven years old, and she lived there the rest of her life.

Helen Wells graduated from New York University in 1934 with a major in philosophy and a minor in sociology and psychology, and spent several years as a social worker, until she chose to switch careers and make her living writing children’s books. In addition to Cherry Ames, she created the Vicki Barr series, and the later, short-lived Polly French book series.

During the 1940s many children’s series focused on war stories, and the Cherry Ames books emphasized the vital need for military nurses, beginning with the first two books that chronicled her school years. The first book, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, introduced us to characters who continued throughout the series.

Prank-loving high school graduate Cherry had dark eyes and curly hair. She was strong and healthy, and her rosy cheeks would get her into trouble at nursing school, for supervisors kept telling her to wipe off her non-existent rouge. (I’m told it wasn’t until the twenty-fourth book, Companion Nurse, that readers learned her true name was Charity, the same as her grandmother.)

Charlie, her twin brother, was as fair as Cherry was dark. Mr. and Mrs. Ames were proud of their two grown children. and always welcomed them back for short visits home. Poor but brilliant Dr. Joe Fortune inspired Cherry’s love of medicine, and Dr. Joe’s mischievous daughter Midge became an honorary little sister to Cherry.

In Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse, we are introduced to Dr. Lex Upham. He courts Cherry through much of the series, and proposes at least twice, but he remains only one of Cherry’s many admirers. From the 1940s through the 1960s Cherry was shown as a popular, attractive woman with an important career, who didn’t need a steady boyfriend in order to be fulfilled.

After Cherry leaves the Army Nurse Corps she works for a brief time as a private duty nurse in her hometown of Hilton, Illinois. In book eight of the series, Cherry Ames, Visiting Nurse, she moves to New York City and lives at Spencer Club, a Greenwich Village apartment shared by several Spencer Hospital classmates. All worked for a time as visiting nurses, and then began accepting various temporary assignments that often found them working far from their shared home.

After moving to New York City Cherry becomes a nurse who solves mysteries. At times her nursing assignments get limited mention in the story line.

In 1948, after writing Visiting Nurse, Helen Wells chose to sideline her book series work to concentrate on writing for television and radio. Though her name appears on the cover of book nine, Cherry Ames, Cruise Nurse, that volume, as well as the next seven in the series, were written by Julie Tatham, and the new author’s name appeared on seven books.

Julie Tatham was born June 1, 1908, in Flushing, New York, and began writing for the New York Evening Post in 1926, at the age of eighteen. For a time she ran a literary agency, and went on to create the Ginny Gordon and Trixie Belden book series, writing under her maiden name of Julie Campbell. She continued the Cherry Ames series until 1955, as well as Helen Wells’ Vicki Barr books until 1953. When Helen Wells wished to return to the two series she had created Mrs. Tatham gave them back to her, though she held onto the Cherry Ames books for a little longer, since she enjoyed writing that series more than the other.

My fourth purchased Cherry adventure, Country Doctor’s Nurse, was the last one written by Julie Tatham. Having never read the nine books that came between it and Veteran’s Nurse, I can’t say for sure how much the second author influenced the story lines veering over into a mystery series. Though quite a change of pace from the war books, it’s an enjoyable read, despite some of the subplots seeming a bit unlikely. Though when I think of it, a series of books about a mystery-solving nurse who takes temporary assignments in five foreign countries would have a hard time attempting to remain completely realistic.

I would have enjoyed reading the entire twenty-seven book series, but book buying in other areas, compounded by perpetually living in tiny apartments made purchasing all things Cherry Ames an impossibility. I compromised by buying only one more volume, the one that sounded the most unlikely to my small-town lifestyle. I bought Cherry Ames, Department Store Nurse, first published in 1956.

At one time at least, multi-story department stores had infirmaries staffed with two nurses, to serve the small medical emergencies of both employees and customers. Cherry worked the Christmas season at a store infirmary located close to the Antiques Department, and when a series of thefts began taking place, it didn’t take long for Cherry to find free time in her nursing duties to take on the investigation.

Never having shopped in a big city, I haven’t a clue as to whether the plot could have happened in real life, but it’s a great read. Cherry Ames knew how to live a perfectly respectable life as a registered nurse, and end up having a great deal more adventure, fun and romance than anyone I’ve ever heard of.

The last book in the Cherry Ames series was published in 1968. During the 1970s four of the later volumes were reprinted as paperbacks, under new titles that downplayed the nursing, and emphasized the mystery aspect.

Over the years the used books in the series remained popular with both new and old fans, though there is are some who mock the books as being about a nurse who couldn’t hold a steady job.

Helen Wells died in 1986, and she bequeathed the Cherry Ames series copyrights to her brother, Robert Wells. He didn’t know what to do with the book rights until he met Harriet Forman, who’d become a nurse after reading the Cherry Ames books. Mr. Wells gave the copyrights to Ms. Forman, and now Springer Publishing – a source for textbooks and journals for the health care industry – is reprinting the twenty Cherry Ames novels written under Helen Wells’ name (including the first Julie Tatham book).

The titles are available in hardback editions with the original cover artwork, sold in boxed sets of four, or as individual books. Cherry Ames Ebook editions are also available.

So why is a textbook publisher reprinting novels about outdated nurses’ training and practices? I can’t answer that, beyond assuming they feel Cherry Ames is still a great role model for nurses. Or perhaps they just appreciate books that provide an enjoyable read.

In today’s world, holding down a steady job for decades is becoming as rare as long-term romances. Cherry Ames was ahead of her time in showing that a life of constant changes can bring great satisfaction.