Dr. Nina and the Panther

by Shirley P. Wheeler, 1976

Part 1: "Lord in the Morning...."
Part 2: "Work, for the night is coming."
Part 3: "Some poor faint, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."
Part 4: "I walked in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses."
Part 5: "And the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright."
Part 6: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee."

Part 3: "Some poor faint, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."

. . . 1
Nina’s trip to east Pennsylvania in 1901 ended in Chicago, where her purse was stolen. Her tickets and the money that had been a sign unto her were gone. The ticket agent to whom she reported her catastrophe took her to the stationmaster. The two men were kind and helpful, but then, why shouldn’t they be? Although Nina was now sixteen years old, her hair still hung in neat thick braids down her back. She was tiny – barely five feet tall – slim and shapely. Who wouldn’t be kind? Especially in the olden days when a young girl traveling by herself was a phenomenon.

They discovered from her that the Battle Creek Sanitarium had a branch sanitarium in Chicago, the first small doctor-hospital complex to reach out to the sick and the poor in any major American city. Perhaps if they called the hospital, someone would be willing to help her. Battle Creek Sanitarium, the Chicago branch, and the girl were, after all, of the same faith. The stationmaster found the telephone number and talked tot he doctor in charge. He was relieved to hear the doctor say, "Keep her right there. My wife and I will come immediately."

Dr. David Paulson and his wife, Mary, took Nina home with them. At supper she told them her dream of studying medicine; she was much less tentative in her mind, she told them, because she really believed the money to come east, where her only possibility of studying medicine lay, was Heaven-sent.

"It will mean a lot of hard work, and a lot of money," Dr. David said.

"Oh, I don’t mind hard work. And money? Well, the Lord has indicated that He will make room for me. And I guess he will."

"Suppose you stay her in Chicago for a while," Dr. David proposed. "We’ll see what can be done. Tomorrow we’ll see if we can’t find some sort of job for you." He arranged for Nina to have a room at the nurses’ dormitory at the hospital, and provided her with a meal ticket for the hospital dining room.

She moved into her new room, and at dawn the next morning she dressed and walked quietly outside. She explored the area, frantically trying to imagine what kind of work she could do to earn money. Often a crisis must occur before we learn to face what is real; Nina finally was facing the reality of money. No miracle occurred, and she attended morning worship and went in to breakfast penniless. But at breakfast she asked one of the nurses at her table if there were not some things the hospital was doing that required help other than nursing, for which she was unqualified, or kitchen work.

"There’s a printing office where they print Lifeboat, a magazine devoted to our work for the prisoners in the state prisons," the nurse offered.

"Where is the press?" Nina asked eagerly.

"Around the corner to the left, in the old annex."

Nina went around the corner and entered the printing plant. The office was small and crowded with desks, supplies, and unsold past issues of the magazine. The sound of the hand presses in the next room was loud. The man in charge of the office explained the purpose of the magazine.

"What’s the circulation?" Nina asked.

"Twenty-four thousand copies," he replied, "but we can’t keep going much longer unless we raise it to fifty thousand."

"Have you ever tried to sell it on the newsstands, or on the street?"

"No, it’s not the sort of magazine people buy on newsstands."

"Give me fifty copies. I’ll see if it will sell on the street."

"O.K.," he said, smiling. "You can try. I think you’re a little crazy, but you can try."

She left the office with fifty copies of Lifeboat on her arm. At the nearest busy corner, she was frightened. The maze of streetcar tracks, the clang of the trolleys, the rumbling of the elevated trains overhead made selling magazines in a big city very different from selling books before Christmas in a small town. She thought of going back to the hospital, then said aloud, "Come now! Do with your might what your hands find to do. Remember?"

"Did you speak?" asked a man passing by.

"Yes. Please buy a Lifeboat. It’s a magazine devoted to the reform of prisoners. You will really enjoy reading it."

"How much?" he asked, feeling in his pocket.

"Ten cents."

He took the paper and dropped the coin in her hand. One hour later she was back in the Lifeboat office, every copy sold. She was beaming and the printer was astonished.

"How much do I owe you for the magazines?"

"One and one-half cents a copy," he replied.

She left the Lifeboat office with $4.25 held tightly in her hand. If I can earn this much in one hour, she thought, I can earn real money working an eight-hour day. She began her first eight-hour day the next morning.

Within a week she had organized the women of the local church into a sales force. She trained them mercilessly.

"Don’t be lazy. Put in honest time. Decide how many hours a day you can give to the work, then keep on working until that number of hours is finished. If you don’t sell, don’t worry. If you put in the time, you’ll begin to sell, sooner or later. Sell door to door but sell to everyone you meet. There’s no way to tell by a person’s appearance whether he’ll buy or not. Try everyone."

She didn’t exactly tell the women that there’s a sucker born every minute, but in a few weeks, following her instructions, the women were selling all over Chicago. By charging them two cents a copy, Nina made fifty cents on every hundred copies they sold. The woman donated their profits to the work of the church. Nina kept hers. In the fall she enrolled in night classes at Atheneum College. She sold magazines eight hours a day during the long, cold, dark winter and studied German and chemistry at night. She was wonderfully happy to be on a straight path to her goal.


. . . 2
Late in the next summer Nina acquired an unexpected assistant. Marie was a Swedish girl from Minnesota, twenty-two years old, an orphan, raised in a country home until she was twelve. From then on she had worked for her keep for various farm families. When she was eighteen she began to receive three dollars a month in wages. Her education had been sporadic and scanty – she could read and write, possibly well enough to pass a fifth-grade examination.

Somewhere in her life she had decided to become a trained nurse. She saved every cent she earned, going out at night when she could, after a long day’s work, to help someone clean house or to mind children for extra money. She had come to Chicago to start nurse’s training, unaware of the necessity of a minimum formal education to enter the school. She arrived at the Chicago Sanitarium early one morning and asked to see the "head doctor."

"The doctor’s not here this morning," his secretary said. "Do you have an appointment?"

"No, but I must see him."

"Are you sick?"

"No, ma’am, I ain’t sick. I just got to see the head doctor. I can wait."

And there she waited all morning and through the noon hour. Nurses and attendants went by the door to get a glimpse of her as word was passed along about her strange appearance. She was tall and awkward-looking, with thick, dirty blond hair piled high on her head, straggling locks hanging down on every side about her tanned, freckled face. She had no hat; her shirtwaist and skirt were not together at the waist; she wore boys’ heavy work shoes over bare feet. All her belongings were tied up in an old Paisley shawl that she kept close to her.

When Nina came in after one o’clock, a little late for dinner, one of the nurses said, "Go look at the freak waiting for Dr. David in the parlor. She’s prehistoric!"

"Is she sick?" Nina asked.

"No, she says not. She just says, ‘I got to see the head doctor,’" The nurse sneered. "She won’t tell anyone what she wants."

"Well, why should she? If she wants to see the doctor, that’s her business. Sometimes it’s important to speak to an exact person," Nina said indignantly.

"I guess you’re right. It’s just that she looks so funny, no one can imagine where she came from or what she wants."

"Maybe we look funny to her." Nina was softened by the nurse’s apologetic tone. "How long has she been here? Has she had any dinner?"

"I don’t know. I guess not. She came about eight o’clock and hasn’t budged since."

Nina crossed the hall and went in. Marie was dozing. Nina had a moment to notice her work-worn hands with broken nails, her chapped wrists, her bruised ankles. She shook Marie gently.

"Excuse me, but have you had any dinner?"

Marie was embarrassed at having fallen asleep. "No, but I’m all right."

"Won’t you please come and eat with me? I’m late for dinner, too. Dr. David won’t be in until three o’clock. We’ve lots of time." Marie looked anxiously at her bundle. "Your things will be safe here; no one will touch them."

Marie stood up. She was even taller and more ungainly standing than sitting. "I ain’t fit to go to table. I was on the train all the whole night," she said, looking at her hands.

"We’ll go to the washroom first. While you’re washing, I’ll go tell the cook to give us something for dinner." She was gone and back again at the lavatory before Marie was ready.

While they were eating, Nina found that farm people were not so very different from mountain people. By the time they had finished, Nina knew a great deal more about Marie that Marie had meant to tell. Nina’s tender heart ached as Marie’s story unfolded. Fed and with a friend, Marie lost her dogged, stolid façade and showed spirit and hopefulness.

"I tell you what," Nina said. "I’ll see Dr. David first. I can get him to see you." While Marie waited again in Dr. David’s parlor, Nina went into his office and explained the situation.

"You’ve probably told Marie’s story better than she could," Dr. David sighed, "but what can we do with her? She certainly can’t enter training."

"She can stay with me in my room. I’ll find work for her. She can go to adult education classes at night until she’s ready for training. Oh, Dr. David, please see her. You’ll realize right away that she’s a real person."

Marie was called in. She was told that the road to nursing was long and hard. It meant years of hard work and study. She would first have to complete the equivalent of a high school education; she would have to work so that, as soon as possible, she could pay for her board and room; and she would have to clothe herself. All this had to be done before she could join the nurses’ class.

"That’s all right, Doc," Marie said. "I’ll work for twenty years to be a nurse. You won’t never lose nothin’ on me."

"All right, then," Dr. David agreed. "Nina, I’m holding you responsible for her."

"I’ll be responsible." Nina stood up. "I’ll be more than responsible. I’ll be happy. We can help each other. It will be wonderful."

Marie, towering over Nina, bent down and put her big, rough hand gently on Nina’s shoulder. They looked at each other for a moment, both smiling, then turned and went out together.

In her room, carefully and with the tact she had learned in the mountains, Nina began to pull Marie together. The blouse and skirt could not be pulled together, but Marie’s hair, washed and combed, turned out to be a dark-gold cloud, the color of ripe wheat. They subdued the cloud into a thick, neat bronze chignon. The wayward tendrils that still escaped were snipped so that random curls softened the magnificent bone structure of Marie’s rugged face. The next morning they bought Marie a green dress that complimented her statuesque proportions and emphasized her narrow, bright-green eyes. They bought stockings and shoes and a hat. It’s odd to remember that in those days hats were as necessary for outdoor wear as shoes for woman of any class.

The next day they went out to sell Lifeboat. Nina chose a quiet neighborhood, and for the first dozen houses she did the talking while Marie observed in the background. Then Nina took the opposite side of the street and let Marie try alone. Poor Marie, shy and awkward, sold nothing all day. She was not discouraged; she was willing to try again and again. Three days later she started to sell, and the worst was over. They soon took different routes. Marie started out every day at eight o’clock and worked until four. Every night she counted her money with wonder and delight. She paid back the loan from Nina for her clothes. She enrolled in night adult education classes shortly after Nina enrolled in Atheneum College. They studied together in the night, Marie puzzling over her lessons long after Nina was asleep.

Marie lost the tan and the freckles that in those days were considered unattractive. Her beautiful hair, her bright narrow eyes, and her straight, beautiful stride caused heads to turn as she walked by. She was on her way.


. . . 3
"Has Marie come home yet? Any letters for me?" Nina asked at the hospital desk on her way from night school to her room on the top floor.

"One," replied the clerk. He shuffled through a stack of letters until he found one for her. "No, Marie’s not home yet."

She was surprised to see that the letter was from Dr. David Paulson. She had seen him at supper in the hospital dining room and he had said nothing about writing to her. This, she thought, must be something very important. She sat down on the arm of a nearby chair and opened the envelope.

Dear Miss Case,

How would you like to represent the Lifeboat magazine and the Sanitarium Idea at the Southern Camp Meetings this summer? We will send a nurse in uniform with you as chaperon and helper. You will take orders for Lifeboat, get subscriptions of money for our enterprise, viz: prison work, Sunday jail services in police stations, and for our Rescue Home. If the venture succeeds, we will see that you have money to enter medical school in the fall, providing the Conference Committee agrees.

On this trip you will have transportation, room and board, and a percentage on all magazine subscriptions you sell. We will outfit you with uniform and necessary baggage.

Come in tomorrow and we will talk it over. In the meantime, pray for light and guidance. It will be a great responsibility for one so young. We cannot give you a set program. You will have to decide how to make this work, but from what we have observed, you will be able to do this if you keep your humble, God-fearing spirit.


David Paulson, M.D.

Nina gave a shout of joy and danced around the deserted hospital lobby waving her letter and chanting, "He’s made room! He’s made room! I knew it could be, and now He’s made room!"

The desk clerk was agog. "What’s happened? What is it? Did someone leave you a fortune?"

"No. Better than that! The Lord has made room for me!"

She sped up the stairway to her room, where behind a closed door she could soberly and devoutly thank Him from the depths of her innocent heart.

Weeks of planning and preparation followed. It was decided that Nina and Mrs. Hale, the nurse, would spend one week at each of the Southern Summer Camp Meetings. They would sell Lifeboat in the nearby towns, and Nina would speak twice at each encampment, once in an afternoon service on the Sanitarium Idea and once in the evening meeting in the big tent on the plight of prisoners and the church’s need for money to bring them hope, medical supplies, and, where possible, a new attitude toward themselves and their lives. The printing plant worked night and day to print and then to mail thousands of copies of the magazine to the post offices in every city where they were scheduled to stop.

Nina arranged for Marie to take over her entire magazine operation in Chicago. Marie was delighted to be put in charge of the church women and to reap half a cent a copy of unearned income. She was not yet in training, but five years later she would graduate at the head of her nursing class. Nobody never lost nothin’ on her.

On the fifth day of May, Nina and Mrs. Hale were ready to leave on their tour. The nurse, a beautiful, stately, white-haired woman, wore a white uniform with a navy-blue cap and shoulder-length pleated veil edged with white piqué. Nina wore a sheer navy-blue cotton voile uniform with narrow white collar and cuffs, and a nurse’s cap of navy blue, with a sheer veil down to her shoulders in back. They must have made a striking pair – Nina with her long dark braids and her clear light-blue eyes, the nurse surrounded by that aura of competence and rectitude that every mature nurse carries with her.

Wherever they were, on the train, in the depot, on the street, they sold Lifeboat. They would take a bundle of magazines from their luggage and in no time at all it was gone. In cities where they stopped for the Camp Meeting week, the post office was their first port of call. They sold from the post office on through the town, inviting everyone they met to come to the meetings held on the campgrounds. By the time Nina’s scheduled speeches were to be made late in the week, the big tent was full. There was not, you must realize, a great deal to do in the evenings in those days. And the impact of our two women, saintly youth joined with white-haired competence, drew crowds. They progressed in increasing triumph from Little Rock to Memphis to Nashville, where Nina, who was the Camp Meeting authority on prisons, visited her first penitentiary; to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Jackson, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta.

As they progressed from city to city, invitations came for Nina to speak in other churches and for other organizations; the WCTU, the Anti-Saloon League, various local prison-reform groups that knew a great deal more about the appalling state of the prisons than Nina knew. Soon there was no time to sell Lifeboat. At that point Nina conceived a brilliant idea. She decided to sell subscription blocks, one hundred subscriptions minimum. The churches and groups buying the subscriptions would know that the money they paid would be used for the prisoners, and the magazines would not go to the subscribers but to the prisoners. What a great idea! The persons who gave the money for good work would not be burdened with the bad conscience that results from throwing away unread uplift material, and the prisoners might very well benefit. Then or now, there has never been enough to do in prison. It is very possible that a young offender would be strengthened to change himself as he read how someone older and more fatally trapped in a circle of criminal activities had begun a new life, substituting new habits for those that led him inevitably into repeated prison terms.

Thousands of subscriptions poured in. In that one summer the circulation of Lifeboat increased from 24,000 to 75,000.

Nina’s speech for the afternoon services was simple and direct. She spoke first on the general Sanitarium Idea, the program in the Seventh-Day Adventist sanitarium for treating the whole patient with a nourishing nonharmful diet, with trusted medicines, with trained nursing care, with hope, and with confidence in God. She spoke of the medical missionary work of the Chicago branch of Battle Creek Sanitarium. She described the trips she had taken with the visiting nurses to the district called "back of the yards" in Chicago; the almost hopeless task, for this handful of workers, of reaching out to the desperately poor, desperately ignorant, sick, and bewildered people of the area.

Then she talked about the home treatment of simple diseases. Mrs. Hale, the nurse, gave the treatments on a cot on the platform, selecting a patient from the audience. Nina explained how to treat a cold, toothache, sleeplessness, headache, earache, stomachache, boils, backache, frozen feet, sprains, and tantrums thrown by both children and those well past childhood. It must have been an enjoyable show.

Then she gave a simple talk about diet. She talked about the nutritive value of whole-grain cereal, honey, fruit, vegetables, and berries. She told about the fine protein value of nuts, milk, and beans. And she extolled the thirst-quenching virtue and the medical benefit of pure, cold water. With St. Francis of Assisi, she praised "Sister Water, who is useful, humble, precious, and pure." Poor Sister Water in these latter inattentive and uncaring days! Without her, so useful, precious, and pure, what will become of us all?

She spoke about the bad effects of liquor, tobacco, hate, bad temper, selfishness, and envy on the health of the human body. Since she didn’t drink or smoke, hated no one, was sweet-tempered and unselfish, and had never known the corrosive physical and psychological effects of envy, she must have been convincing. One gray-haired farmer in Tennessee came up after one meeting and put twenty-five dollars in Nina’s hand.

"Here," he said. "This is my next year’s tobacco money. I’m through chewin’. Use this to help one of them poor folk in the big city that’s got it so bad."

The evening service was more emotional. The best preachers, the best hymns, the best music, the highest pitch of emotion were the goals. Nina spoke midway in the service. She had to keep her talk simple and somewhat vague. Her association with prisons, prisoners, police stations, and criminals reformed or unreformed was nonexistent. But she had good material to work with. From my research I am impressed with the imaginative vigor of that church in its dedication to the alleviation of the appalling plight of prisoners. In those days almost nobody else cared. She must have been given firsthand accounts, because I have found firsthand accounts, in books my mother never read, which echo my childhood memories of her prison stories. As she spoke more often, she gained in power both to enthrall and to convince.

About the Rescue Home she had firsthand information. This old-time halfway house took in any lost soul who came, but the bulk of its residents were runaway teenage girls. Nina had gone there frequently, not just because she liked children and was concerned especially with these bedraggled, forlorn, and hostile little girls, but also because she felt they could usefully spend their time making special teats for the little ones confined in the hospital over birthdays and holidays. As they worked together in groups, Nina heard their stories and understood their attitudes; and she grieved for them. She must have been effective in her talks about the Rescue Home, because, for instance, the mayor of Amory, Mississippi, who had been at the evening service and had already contributed generously, came to the railroad station the next morning as Nina and Mrs. Hale were boarding their train. He drew Nina aside and pressed a hundred-dollar bill into her hand.

"Use this for the Rescue Home. Our only daughter ran away many years ago. We have never heard from her. Help some young girl now for her sake. And for our." His walk, as he turned away, was rigid with sorrow.

Toward the end of the summer tour, a leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union heard Nina speak. A few days later a letter came from the WCTU central office asking Nina to join a lecture tour throughout the United States. She was offered all expenses and $200 a month. Even with her newfound respect for money, she wasn’t tempted. She tucked the letter away to use as a reason to consult with the Conference Committee about her future.

When she returned to Chicago she was greeted with enthusiasm and acclaim. The sanitarium staff was overjoyed with the money and pledges that were pouring in. All their projects had taken on a new vigor. Nina was in demand everywhere to tell about the trip and her work. She was busy, but not so busy as to forget to ask for a meeting with Elder Allen, the chairman of the Conference Committee.

She opened the meeting with him by producing the letter from the WCTU. He was impressed by the salary, which was indeed a large one for those days. He asked Nina what she thought about joining the Temperance Union tour.

"I couldn’t," she said. "I want to be a doctor, and now is the time to start."

Elder Allen was silent. Dr. David Paulson had explained Nina’s desire to him, but the elder had put off facing what was, to him, a doubtful and dangerous idea. But the cards were on the table now. He tried to explain his reluctance to give approval to such a project.

"You see, Nina, it’s such a risk. Worldly schools, especially medical schools, are full of atheists. It would be a hard task for you to go to a worldly medical school like that and still keep your faith. We have lost almost all of our young men who have tried it. They’re now out of the church and working in worldly hospitals. Of the few who have returned to our institutions, many of these have brought worldly ideas and practices into our hospitals." Then, seeing the cloud of disappointment on her face. He added, "We’ll pray about it. I’ll call the Conference Committee together. I’ll talk to Dr. Kellogg at Battle Creek. If the way opens up for you to go and still keep your hold on the Truth, we will help you."

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the most successful of the hospitals under Seventh-Day Adventist control. As director, Dr. Kellogg was so important to the church that he was consulted on every problem in the Midwest area.

With what reassurances she could find in Elder Allen’s statements, Nina had to hold her peace and wait.

A week later she was invited to speak at an afternoon meeting of the entire staff of Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, and she was invited to a supper at the home of Dr. Kellogg after the meeting. This day happened to be, by coincidence, her eighteenth birthday. She spoke well and was enthusiastically received by the staff, and at supper she met W.W. Kellogg, the doctor’s brother, who was somewhat tense and apprehensive about a new business he was about to begin. Little did Nina know at supper that night that the idea of corn flakes and shredded wheat was on the verge of being revealed to a cooked-cereal world.

Two weeks later, Elder Allen called Nina into his office in Chicago. He was abrupt.

"The Conference Committee has met. The only way the church could give approval to your idea of being a doctor or could justify spending the amount of money it would take to see you through to actual practice of medicine would be if you would marry one of our preachers."

This was a bombshell.

"Marry!" Nina was stunned. "Marry! I don’t understand."

"You could study medicine in the winter, and work with our preacher in the summers in church work. There would be less danger of your being weaned away from your religion. You must realize, Nina, that it is our responsibility, and our deepest concern, to save your immortal soul."

"I can’t just marry anyone! I’ve never even thought of marriage."

"Now, don’t be hasty. We mean married for the sake of the church, not married in a worldly sense."

He went on to explain that in these "last days" men and women who were getting ready for "translation" were above the earthly idea of marriage, that a woe had been pronounced on all of God’s people who had children in the last days.

"If you agree to this," he argued, "you can go on and study medicine with a free mind."

"Do you have anyone in mind that I should marry?" Nina asked. She was trying to make this extraordinary proposition seem real.

"No. We have several in mind, but we’ve made no decision. You can, however, start medical school now. As soon as we’ve found the right one, we’ll let you know."

"Must I decide now?"

"I don’t see why not. There’s nothing to discuss. Either you agree, or we must start thinking about what other work you can do."

Nina stared out the window. The unreality of the discussion made her slow-witted. A giant black crow flapped down to perch on the slenderest topmost branch of a yew hedge outside the window. He teetered perilously until he was sure the spray of yew would hold his weight. At rest, his feathers iridescent purple in the afternoon sunlight, the crow surveyed the garden. Nina wrenched her mind away from this normal oddity of nature.

"Very well," she said. "Do what you think best."

Elder Allen was unaccountably uneasy. "If I were you, I would say nothing to anyone about this arrangement, especially not to Dr. David or Dr. Kellogg. I must ask you to promise me that."

Nina agreed. She left the office and walked home, as she said later, on leaden feet. The girl who had danced for joy around a cold, deserted lobby such a short while ago walked back to the same hospital lobby weighed down by a heavy burden of bewilderment and apprehension.

Is it any wonder that I judge my mother to have been panther-prone? Away she went up a road where she knew a panther might lie in wait, else why the leaden feet? What decision should she have made? Her grain-of-mustard-seed faith have moved too many mountains for her to turn back now. She had long trusted authority, even though it had led her into hardship and danger and deprivation. Could she now have rebelled? Maybe she would have agreed to marry the Devil himself rather than lose her heart’s desire. But the secrecy demanded of her should have warned her that there was something not quite right here, something not exactly acceptable.

Why the secrecy? What went on in the Conference Committee discussion? Who proposed such a compromise between those for and those against? If means to an end must be hidden with unease and shamefacedness, can those who demand secrecy complain if the end is not to their liking? "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings."

Nina went to Northwestern Medical School the next day to enroll. In the rush and hurry of choosing her courses, finding a room in a convenient boardinghouse, packing and moving and saying goodbye to the past and welcome to the future, her spirits rose. What healthy, single-minded girl can dwell overlong on future dangers? Even panthers tire of waiting and may drift away.


Continue to Part 4: "I walked in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses."