My dad was born in 1922 in a small two-bedroom home in Newton – a small farming town in northern Utah. He was a whopper! According to family legend, he weighed at least 11 pounds. The nurse who delivered him was my great grandma – Emelia Jensen. I doubt she had a way to accurately weigh my dad, but I don’t doubt that he was a big baby or that he had expert care as he was brought into this world.
Years earlier Grandma Jensen had emigrated from Denmark to Newton, married and had six children. In 1891, when her children were still young, church leaders “called” her to go to Salt Lake City, about 100 miles south, and study nursing and then return home to provide healthcare to the people in the town. For her to study nursing required great sacrifice and dedication. Train rails dotted the countryside by the time she went to nursing school, but it was still quite a long journey from her home to her school. She stayed and studied in Salt Lake City for long periods of time to complete her education. I’m sure she and her family were all quite proud and happy when she finished school and returned home to Newton.
For the rest of her life, she delivered all the babies and cared for everyone in town when illness struck. She provided care as best as she could for the patient and family. When necessary, she quarantined the home to prevent the diseases from spreading. According to my father’s mother, “[Grandma Jensen] attended over one thousand confinement cases and only lost one . . . and never brought a contagious disease home to her family. . . . I have never seen the distance too far, the road too muddy, or the wind too cold, or the pay too small, for her to leave her nice warm bed and go out to help those who needed her.”
Grandma Jensen died 30 years before I was born, but I loved to hear my dad’s stories about her and her tireless dedication and service as a nurse. She made a difference in the lives of the families she cared for. I grew up thinking she was the smartest, bravest woman that ever lived. I longed to follow in her footsteps. As far as I know I’m the first of her grandchildren to become a nurse. When I graduated with my master’s degree in nursing, my oldest sister gave me a gift I will always treasure – Grandma Jensen’s pocket watch, the one she used as she provided family nursing care to the people of Newton. Her watch is proudly displayed in my home and inspires me to strive to be the kind of family nurse who would make Grandma Jensen proud.
Jane H. Lassetter, PhD, RN, is a Professor and the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Scholarly Works, and Contribution to the Discipline in the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She serves as President of the International Family Nursing Association and is deeply devoted to family nursing.