The following transcript, from the WHS Annual Meeting of 2014, has been lightly edited for readability, with some contextual information added in brackets. We thank Pat Kerouac and Jared Jordan for their help assembling materials for the accompanying exhibit, which was prepared by WHS board member Diane Brenner.
Diane Brenner: Florence Berry was born in 1892 in Abington, Massachusetts, which is near Plymouth. Her family were shoemakers, they worked in shoe factories. And her mother, of the Moseley family, had been born in Brazil, of all places. I have a suspicion they were missionaries, but I’m not sure. But she went to nursing school at Cooley Dickinson Hospital [in Northampton, MA] by 1917, and then her life morphs into the life of the Health Center. She was in school during World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and she became very involved with the Red Cross right after she graduated. In the 1920s she had a number of jobs, but her main commitment was to the Red Cross.
After the war, in 1922, the Red Cross set up rural health programs. Their mission of taking care of the war-wounded had wound down, and they rededicated themselves to providing services in underserved areas, including our area, the Hilltowns. They set up a rural nursing service, with one nurse serving Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Chesterfield, and Worthington. Actual practice extended to Peru and Ashfield as well.
And the job of that one nurse was – everything. She traveled around, she provided help with prenatal care, postnatal care, deliveries. There were doctors in every town, and she would assist the doctors. She would educate people on home care, chronic illness. She would help people who were dying. Nurses received a small stipend, but often were paid in produce or other forms of barter. No one nurse lasted more than two years at this job. Florence was the tenth nurse, and she also lasted two years. She came in 1930, and she soon recognized this was really an impossible task. And in 1932 she convinced the town of Worthington to get out of the Red Cross nurse service and hire her as the town and school nurse for a stipend of $500 per year.
The town nurse was also the school nurse. But there wasn’t one school, there were five. Lyceum Hall was the big school, with two classes in it, and it was the only school with running water and electricity. Florence served as town nurse for twenty years basically, and she hooked up with somebody named Dr. Mary Snook. Dr. Modestow, did you know Dr. Mary Snook?
Dr. Modestow: Yes.
Diane Brenner: She sounds like quite an important and interesting person. She was the town doctor for Chesterfield-Worthington. She lived first in Chesterfield, then in 1943 she and her family moved into the Rice house here on the corner [1 Old Post Road], and she was Worthington’s doctor. She and Florence Bates were kind of a partnership. They worked very well together, they admired each other, and they essentially provided the medical and nursing care for the town.
Mary Snook was also the first female medical examiner for Hampshire County in 1932. In 1948 she left to work with the Northampton Hospital – the mental hospital – leaving Worthington without a doctor [for the first time since its incorporation in 1768]. And that was the impetus for the founding of what was called, at that time, the Worthington Health Association. That was established in 1950, and Florence was the spearhead for that. There was a town meeting, and the need for a doctor was brought up. The town said, “Well, we can’t authorize this at town meeting,” so they set up a committee. And that committee basically established the Worthington Health Association, which was located in the Lyceum Hall.
They took over a former classroom and fitted it through as doctors’ offices, and they had arrangements with a doctor to come up from Northampton from time to time. But most importantly, there were two principal ideas behind the new Health Center. One was that everybody would be served, no matter what their ability to pay was. And the second idea was to attract young doctors, dentists and practitioners to the area by providing the overhead, paying the administrative costs, and providing an office and equipment – because this was not an easy place to bring doctors to.
That model kind of worked for a while, though there was quite a bit of turnover. They renovated Lyceum Hall, but by 1964 it had outgrown its capacity. The idea was to expand into the second floor, but this was too expensive, and the building was falling down. Then an opportunity arose, courtesy of the McCann family. The McCanns owned The Worthington Inn [27 Old North Road], which was called Elmsted at the time, and huge amounts of land. They donated the land as well as money, and in 1964 construction started on a building that opened in 1966. And that became the Worthington Health Center. The McCanns also donated land and money for The Maples [48 Old North Road].
As the program expanded, the original conception started to fray. Membership around that time was $2.50 per person, and even with the goal of a thousand members, the operating costs mounted.
Arlo Guthrie gave a fundraising concert in 1975, and that was an important source of income, but donations and memberships were not sustaining the Center. So they had to go back on their promise to the doctors and dentists, and asked them to contribute to the operations at the rate of $1 per patient visit. There was some agreement to that, and some reluctance. But again, it wasn’t enough. Florence Bates was very much against any kind of state, federal, or other outside money – she felt extremely strongly that the people had an obligation to pay for their services. But the people paid the doctors, and the doctors kept the money, and the Health Center maintenance was mostly based on outside contributions. And this just wasn’t sustainable as time went on.
Eventually various people quit, various people were hired, the board fell apart. There was an “insurrection” with lots of drama, where new people in town basically ousted some older board members by packing the annual meeting [of the WHA]. Pete Packard was the President of the Board at that time, and he was ousted by a vote that he felt was unfair. He went to court to stop the new board members from being placed, and in the end he partly won his court case.
By 1978 the original concept had changed significantly. There was an application to the HEW – The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now Health and Human Services – for a grant to fund operations and expand. The grant was received, which required the hiring of an administrator and extensive financial changes.
Dr. Modestow resigned around that time. He had come to the Health Center in 1957, so he remains the longest-serving provider (doctor or dentist) at the Health Center, I believe – administrative people have served there much longer. But the real goal here is to hear from Dr. Modestow, and to hear everyone’s reminiscences of both Florence Bates and the Health Center. So, I will turn it over to you. [applause.]
Dr. Modestow: It’s very true what she was talking about. In the army there’s a saying that the generals are the head of the army, and the colonels run the army. It’s the same thing here. The Worthington Health Association was the spearhead, but Mrs. Bates was the colonel. She was always there promoting the whole health concept which you discussed – the basic health of the school, the children, individuals. That was her goal, and it was instilled into her at an early time.
She was educated at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and at that time nurses were trained 12 hours on, 12 hours off. First they had to wash the floors of the entrance to the hospital, then they had to do the regular duty in taking care of patients and their bedding, the regular nursing things. But it was 12 hours straight.
She said we had to wash those floors every day, because that’s the entranceway where people walk through. There couldn’t be anything out of order. These days we have people that are specialized. They just wash the floors of those patients. Other ones specialize in caring for the patient rooms. Then you have assistant nurses taking care of patients. And then the nurses have secretaries, they don’t have to do the charts. Back then Mrs. Bates did everything, and when she came here, she did the same thing at the Health Center. When I got there she did all the sterilizations, all the cleaning of instruments.
At that time the needles were reused and had to be sharpened and cleaned in the autoclave. Now you would never reuse a needle. They’re thrown away, and addicts are out there ready to grab one because they like to have a good, clean needle that’s not dull. And sharpening a needle is rough. Us oldsters remember getting shots with big needles, because they didn’t know how to make real fine needles. I had some blood drawn the other day, and gee, you could hardly see the needle. They reach in, they draw your blood, and there’s nothing to it. But they used to use a 20-gauge needle. You had to give shots that way, and I had to give novocaine that way. The instruments were sterilized, and you had to use it for the next patient after it’s sterilized. Now you’d never do that.
Things used to be wrapped in cloths and put in the sterilizer. I remember we had the sterilizing area in the Lyceum building – sort of like the old kitchen or something. I would go back there and she was doing gloves. Gloves were reused, so they had to be washed and sterilized. Then you had to put talc on them so that you could put them on, because rubber when it’s washed becomes very sticky, and you couldn’t get your hands into it. So this she had to do in that back room, which I’d visit occasionally. When I was working we were in different rooms, so we missed a lot of being able to get to know each other.
She would throw nothing away, so you can imagine how she would see the oncoming of disposable gloves. [Someone would want to] throw used gloves away, and she’s there, “I could reuse that.” [laughter] Medicine just kept progressing, and she did change. Anything that’s better sterilized, better working and such, she was in favor of. So Mrs. Bates was just a wonder woman. All these things, like doing the gauze – you’d make gauzes and sterilize them, and have them ready for the doctors. Then the examining table had cloth and everything. Now, when’s the last time you were on the examining table with your doctor? You’re sitting on paper; you don’t have cloth. She would make the appointments, too, for the doctors. One day I answered the phone and a patient said, “Is this Florence?” I said, “No, this is Worthington.” [laughter] And then she hung up on me. I said, “I blew that one.”
I remember one night – I had evening hours on certain days of the week, and I was working late. It got to be nine o’clock or so, and a person came in, a real gruffy guy, and all my patients had left, I was the only one in the room. So I got nervous, I said, “Gee, I don’t know, this guy could rob me or kill me or something.” I’m not usually that way, but some people just strike you that way. Well I saw what he wanted, and actually I treated him and he left. Well, the next morning, Harry Bates, who was Florence’s husband, comes smiling at me and he says, “Look what I found in the wastebasket. It’s a wallet, and it’s yours.” I had done that that night, and I had forgotten and went home. I’d thought, “Gee, if this guy’s gonna rob me, he’s not gonna get this,” so I threw it in the wastebasket. [laughter]
Another year there was this hot book going on down in the Valley, and everyone wanted a copy of it, and nobody could get one. So one of the people in town knew some book dealer and he got a copy of this book, and he brings it up to the library. And Arthur Capen perused it, and Florence Bates. They were on the library committee, and they decided this book is too risqué. They took it off the shelf and put it in the back room. So I’m wondering if anybody ever sees that book, on the flyleaf, to see who it was that donated Lolita to the library. [laughter]
Pat Kennedy: I’ve got a question. Why did you decide to come to Worthington?
Dr. Modestow: Well, in my senior year of dental training, the Korean conflict was in full force, and there was a question of whether China would enter in. So with that in mind, the United States starts building up its Armed Forces, and they put in a doctor/dentist draft. So in February, I decided – I don’t know why – I joined the Navy. In June, the end of all my training, I have to go down to Boston Navy Yard and got my physical, and they swore me in, and I was in the Navy. And I said, “Fine. What do I do now?” They say, “Well, we’ll call you when we need you.”
What had happened was, the Korean conflict ended, and all of a sudden they didn’t want extra dentists. And I’m out there hanging in the summer, and I said, “Well, I got nothing to do. I better start checking out what I can do.” And I found an ad in the dental journal that the Worthington Health Association would like a full-time dentist, and that’s how I came. I gave them the parameter that I wouldn’t be able to commit to a lifetime or anything, because I was on call. But it didn’t come, the Korean conflict ended. Well, it didn’t really end, because I guess they’re still fighting, in a way. [laughter] Do you have any other questions?
Janine Modestow: Just to clarify, for my own children and grandchildren – so you worked in the Lyceum Hall for how many years?
Dr. Modestow: ’Til the new building was built.
Janine Modestow: That was seven years?
Diane Brenner: Well, ’57 to ’66 actually. Late ’65 to early ’66 is when it became operational. So, almost ten years.
Dr. Modestow: The thing is that there was some stability. In other words, I think Worthington got into my skin, and I really didn’t want to leave without a cause. And as such, having some stability, I think people came forth, and built the new Health Center.
Diane Brenner: Dr. Modestow represented some of the most stability. And Florence Bates. The two of you were probably the most stable forces for many years. And that was always the goal, to find a resident physician, a resident dentist, people who would live in the community if they were given the tools they needed to live here, and could practice without the costs associated with running a practice.
Dr. Modestow: Yeah. Before I came there were a few dentists that worked here. One was a retired dentist from Greenwich, Connecticut, who had retired to Worthington – Dr. Stone. And he did children. But when you get old, you don’t relish working on kids. [laughter] He did it as a duty, so that’s why he says to the Selectmen, “I’ll keep doing this, but I don’t want to.”
Kate Ewald: Did you see any major changes in the art of dentistry, through the time that you worked here in Worthington?
Dr. Modestow: Yes. I’ve been retired for about six years, I think, and I feel right now that I couldn’t go back. It’s changing consistently. I just saw an ad in the Sunday paper that says, “See your dentist for Botox.” [laughter] I’m like, “What the hell?” This has come along since then.
Diane Brenner: When you were practicing here, did you have the kind of equipment you needed?
Dr. Modestow: At the time I started, yes. But when the new Health Center was built, I got all up-to-date equipment in there. Because at the time I started, high speed was the important thing. And to get high speed, you still had belt-driven. Now nothing’s belt-driven – everything is these small hand pieces with things that twirl. It was the development of ball bearings – these minute, small ball bearings – that allowed these high speeds to work. They were just coming in when I was first starting.
The Lyceum building wasn’t the most attractive. I had an office where I could work on a patient, reach the phone, the automatic answering machine. Everything was within reach, I didn’t have to move. That was the only office I had at that time. So moving up to the Health Center, I had two chairs plus a hygienist’s chair, and a laboratory and a personal office. So it was nice moving into what the Worthington Health Association provided. One of my personal patients had a decorator come in and do my office, but that’s beside the point. The community is what grabbed me, and I stayed until – I don’t want to be dumping on the federal government coming in, but that produced a whole different way of financing and such, and it was just something I couldn’t take.
Julia Sharron: I have memories of Mrs. Bates, who was our neighbor. She and her husband were just wonderful people. And Mrs. Bates reminded me of Florence Nightingale, because she was always dressed perfectly in a white dress, and she had her apron. Her hair was grey, and it was always in a pug. She always, always had a smile, and was very pleasant. And if I was visiting with her outside as we walked by, people would come, and they would have a rash or something, and she would tell them what it was, what to do. If they had, say, a headache or something, she would take care of them, she was always that way. And she would be so wonderful to my girls, because at that time, girls got dressed up with high heels and hats and all that. I would allow my girls to walk to the library and back home. She would get on the phone, and she said, “Julie, your girls went by, and I’m so excited.” She was just such a wonderful person, and you could disturb her any time of the day or night if you had a medical problem. I thought that was so marvelous of her, and she never, never complained.
Diane Brenner: I had a very hard time, Julie, finding a photograph of Florence not in uniform. There’s one that I found of her with Harry, shortly after they were married, in a dress. She married Harry in 1936 – she was 44, he was 51 at the time, and it was a second marriage for him. But in almost every photograph she’s dressed in her nurse’s uniform. Part of how she supported herself – she was paid for all of these services Dr. Modestow was talking about, but basically a pittance – was by providing a home for people who needed extra care, and often who were dying. When she first moved to town as a Red Cross nurse, she rented the WBS [Women’s Benevolent Society] parsonage across from the church. So both at the parsonage, and then continuing at her house with Harry Bates [11 Buffington Hill Road], she continued to provide long-term nursing services.
Janine Modestow: I remember she used to send Dad home with banana bread every year. I think it was probably Christmas. I also remember riding my bike up to the Health Center, and Dad’s office was around the back. That’s the way I entered because I got special privileges. What you see as the Health Center now, his offices were at the far right-hand side, and had a door out the back. There was that long walk down the hall to the waiting room, and in the waiting room were – I feel stupid telling this, but remember those blocks? After they were used by the Health Center they were used by play group, and after they were used by play group they went over to R. H. Conwell – the same orange and brown blocks made of cardboard. And that thing you rolled marbles down. ’Cause as a kid that’s all you think about, how good were the toys in the waiting room. I used to love going to the dentist. I would get welcomed in, everybody would be nice, I’d be treated well. Sometimes, when I got to be a teenager, I’d say, “Can I have some money?” [laughter]
[unidentified]: I remember the drills. [laughter]
Ed Lewis: I just remember Dr. Hutchinson had that great big wheel. The big wheel would spin through a gear drive, drilling away screams, it hurt so much.
Dr. Modestow: One of my friends got drafted, and they sent him to Korea, and they sent him to the front lines where there was no electricity. He had one of those big spinning wheels that you had to keep running. You had a drill attached to it, and you could work on a patient on the front lines. But I don’t advise that. [laughter]
Diane Brenner: Electricity came to Worthington in 1928, but before that there was a traveling dentist, and I have a picture of the kind of chair that was used. It was like a sewing machine treadle. It was steam-powered, that was what got the drill moving. So the arrival of electricity meant a great deal.
Suzanne Kulik: I wanted to share a different memory of the Health Center, from my first years here in the late ’70s. We had a family planning clinic then, on Thursday nights, a walk-in clinic. George Scarmon, who had hair down to here, was the doctor. Peter Siersma, who also had hair down to here, was the lab tech. And I volunteered there. Women came from miles around – not just Worthington’s people, because it was a place where, on a sliding fee scale, you could get birth control. And my greatest contribution to it – you talked about the cloth on the tables being replaced with paper? Well, we wanted to make flannel gowns to use instead of the paper ones. So I met with the Coffee Hour, which had a small treasury, and supported worthy causes, for money to buy the flannel. And I bought all this beautiful printed flannel and made flannel gowns. And this motley collection of young women would be lined up in the hallway of the Health Center, waiting their turn, wearing my flannel gowns. Bonnie Rhodes was the nurse, and she would take the gowns home and wash them from week to week. Well of course we carried them in a black plastic trash bag, and eventually the day came when her husband just assumed it was a bag full of…[laughter]…and we lost the whole bag.
Diane Brenner: That family planning thing was actually one of the programs already in existence that allowed the Health Center to get that HEW grant. It was to run these kinds of extra services, special services. There was also a weight-loss clinic. (The family planning clinic, by the way, was defunded in the ’80s under Reagan.) Dr. Scarmon seems to have been quite a person. And the whole organization really changed a lot – well, it was the ‘70s, and it reflected that. That was the period of the so-called “insurrection,” which was framed as newcomers versus old-timers in town. You were one of the newcomers.
Suzanne Kulik: Right, but I opposed the insurrection.
Diane Brenner: There was a conceptual change, too, where people saw the Health Center as having not just traditional nursing and medical care and dentistry, but also a larger function in the community.
Suzanne Kulik: And in the ’60s the community health centers were conceived of as being more than just doctors. And so it does seem like the newcomers really did change it to be more like what the conception of community health centers were nationally. It made sense, then, that we had the grant, because we had become what community health centers were meant to be.
Diane Brenner: The Worthington Health Association was always an independent, nonprofit, incorporated group. It gradually got board members, much like it is now, with members from communities served. It was barely funded by the town. The town at one point voted a grant of $3,500. That was a big deal for a town that previously never provided town funding. Chesterfield and Cummington both added $2,000. This was during the crisis, the place was going bankrupt. And the town did that for one more year, I think. But then although they agreed to the concept of supporting it financially, I don’t believe it received any town funding. And it hasn’t for a very long time. So it was never the “Town of Worthington Health Center.” It was the Worthington Health Association’s Worthington Health Center. And then part of this HEW grant was intended to explore expansion, and because of that, the Huntington Health Center –ultimately, though not immediately – became possible.
Janine Modestow: About the Arlo Guthrie [benefit] concert, how much did that help?
Diane Brenner: It made $18,000. At the time, 1975, that was a fair amount. They had predicted something like 30,000 people, and they would make $30,000. But there were only 6,000 to 8,000 people, and after all the police and whatever, the net was $18,000, which was substantial and really got them out of a hole.
Janine Modestow: I just remembered the concert, and it was a big deal, as a very sheltered, small-town girl. I was all of 13 years old, and I remember being exposed to a lot of things I shouldn’t have seen – a lot of free love going on. [laughter] I remember my mother avidly turning me in other directions as we’re walking by. Luckily we were very close to the stage, because a lot more was happening out back that I probably shouldn’t have seen.
Diane Brenner: Guthrie’s group were apparently users of the Health Center at that time, which is one of the reasons it happened.
[unidentified]: He [Arlo] was also friends with George Scarmon. I was going to say, when you were talking about the budgets, that they operated under Dot Cole. Some of you will remember her as a long-time nurse at the Health Center. I remember her telling me that when she wanted to take time off to have a vacation, she had to pay that person herself.
Diane Brenner: There’s very little actually written by Florence – no diaries, no letters, nothing like that. But there are some pieces of writing in the newspapers. And one thing that seemed to really upset her – besides the fact that people used the Center and didn’t pay their membership dues – was that the providers didn’t give of themselves. As Doctor Modestow said, a twelve-hour day was a short one for her. And as Julie said, she’d be going that extra mile, not keeping hours, doing half of this enormous amount of work essentially as a volunteer. Keeping all the books, running the Health Center, making sure everything was sterile, all of that stuff. That was part of the job. And as time went on, other people did not see it that way, and that was very hard for her.
Florence Bates officially resigned from the Health Center on July 1, 1969. Harry Bates died in May, 1971, at the age of 86. Florence died of “respiratory insufficiency/pneumonia” on July 18, 1978, at the age of 86, after a long illness, possibly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She is buried in the Bates family plot at North Cemetery.
The following is from “Florence Berry Bates, An Appreciation,” by Carl S. Joslyn, published in Stone Walls 3/2 (1977); the quote read by Florence is from the novel Hempfield, by David Grayson, serialized in American Magazine in 1915, when Florence was 23 and had just entered nursing school:
“Several years ago, Florence read to me a favorite quotation of hers and asked me if I knew who wrote it…I did not…it struck me as something that might have been written by Florence herself…
‘As we look backward, those times in our lives which grow brightest, seem most worthwhile, are by no means those in which we have been happiest or most successful, but rather those in which though painful and even sorrowful, we have been most necessary, most desired. To be needed in other human lives – is there anything greater or more beautiful in this world?’
That is what Florence Bates believes, one of the truths by which she has lived: that there is nothing greater or more beautiful in all this world than to be needed in the lives of others.”
Posted August 29, 2017.