Collection Corner: Richard Rupp's U.S. Cadet Nurse Collection
By Denise J. R. Bass
March 07. 2015 12:01AM
North Kingstown, R.I., man's collection a salute to the women in white of World War II
North Kingstown couple has family ties to U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps
Jo Roberts has two rules when it comes to her husband’s ever-growing collections: no heads on the mannequins and no mannequins in the bedroom.
Otherwise, Richard Rupp’s collection of U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps memorabilia has free rein over the rest of couple’s North Kingstown home.
The Cadet Nurse Corps, which was only in existence from 1943 to 1948, is a rich part of the history of women's role at home during World War II.
The program was started by the federal government with the goal of quickly increasing the number of nurses in the United States to make up for the shortage of nurses during the war. A free education was promised to qualifying high school graduates, along with uniforms, books and a monthly stipend. Recruitment posters and ads were designed to appeal to a young woman’s sense of fashion by offering uniforms by New York City designers, which could be modified and used in civilian life. The program, which included black women at a time when the U.S. military was still segregated, successfully trained more than 123,000 nurses.
Rupp's collection was inspired by his late mother-in-law, Eileen O’Donnell, who entered the program at the age of 18. “She was very proud of being in the corps,” says Rupp. “It was really part of her.” After graduating from the corps, she spent her career as a nurse, becoming one of the country’s first nurse practitioners. Rupp's aunt and cousin were also Cadet Nurses. His wife, who recently retired, worked most of her career as a pediatric nurse.
The collection started with a shoulder patch Rupp found at an antique store. He slipped into O'Donnell's Christmas stocking and it was a big hit, sparking many conversations about the corps. “It pleased my mother so much that he was so interested in this,” says Roberts.
Two years later, he found a recruitment poster at an antiques store in Maine. It featured glamorous Cadet Nurse Fay Hancock and the headline, "Enlist in a proud profession!"
“This one I kept for myself,” says Rupp.
His collection includes uniforms and accessories, lapel pins, books, posters, magazine covers, ads and photographs from newspaper archives, all of which are stored and displayed throughout their home — along with items from Rupp's five other collections.
There is a display case filled with Lionel trains at the top of the stairs, Civil War items on walls and in display cases, Italian-made nativity figurines in the den, license plates in the garage, and a collection of letters returned to friends and family of military personnel from the two world wars are stored in a closet.
Although he has been collecting U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps items for 10 years, he is still in search of sheet music to the “Cadet Nurse March,” and all 12 issues of The Cadet Nurse Corps News.
Uniforms are the centerpiece of the collection. The best way to maintain the quality of the 60-year-old fabric, Rupp has learned, is to display them on mannequins. This helps to prevent moth damage that can come from storing wool in a closet.
“The mannequins," says Rupp, "have been banished to the guest rooms.” One of the mannequins was on display at the foot of their bed until one night his wife woke up in a panic, thinking a burglar was in the room.
“It really frightened me," says Roberts. “And then it was like, okay. That’s it. Out! Out! It has to be out of the bedroom. And take the head off of it!”
See the story on the Providence Journal web site:
For more information about the U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps, Rupp recommends:
The United States Public Health Service has reprinted “The United States Cadet Nurse Corps (1943-1948) and other Federal Nurse Training Programs.”
Three books by Thelma M. Robinson:
"Your Country Needs You: Cadet Nurses of World War II"
"Cadet Nurse Stories: The Call and Response of Women During World War II"
"Nisei Cadet Nurse of World War II: Patriotism In Spite of Prejudice"
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