Jennie Nicol Memorial Health Center

That Pi Beta Phi would establish a public health clinic on the campus of its settlement school was, from the moment the first teacher arrived in Gatlinburg in February 1912, a virtual given. Existing settlement schools in the region, such as the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky, had implemented such programs, and the Settlement School Committee and staff was eager to see a similar program established in the valley of the Little Pigeon. And so, after a series of frustrating delays--the financial difficulties and resource rationing occasioned by the United States’ entry into the First World War prevented the fraternity from acquiring supplies and hiring a contractor--the Settlement School Committee purchased a small cottage from Gatlinburg resident Andrew Ogle in 1922, and converted it into a clinic. Dubbed the Jennie Nicol Memorial Health Center in honor of Pi Beta Phi founding member Jennie Nicol M. D., this clinic would serve the health care needs of Gatlinburg residents, as well as their neighbors in nearby smaller communities, for the next forty-three years.

The JNMHC was small; and yet, it proved more than adequate to meet the settlement school’s immediate needs. It featured: a nurse’s office; an emergency operating room complete with a hospital bed; a bathroom outfitted with its own kerosene hot-water heater; and a work room/laboratory that housed sinks, a work table, and a “three-burner oil stove.” Practically all of the medical supplies and furnishings had been donated to the settlement school by Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Clubs and active members. The Boston Alumnae Club, for example, provided a white enamel medicine cabinet for the nurse’s office, while the Houston Club sent curtains. The blankets, pillow cases, and linens used in treating patients were gifts from Pi Beta Phi actives in Iowa, and the New York Alumnae Club provided demonstration dolls for use in “well-baby” clinics and home economics classes.

In regard to its function, the JNMHC might best be described as a public medical clinic, not unlike the free clinics operated by most U. S. communities today. For a nominal fee, the settlement school nurse provided residents with a variety of services: inoculations against a host of infectious diseases, such as diphtheria and smallpox; first aid for cuts, scrapes, and broken bones; physical examinations for babies and school-aged children; and advice regarding nutrition and personal hygiene. On occasion, however, the JNMHC also served as a makeshift hospital where visiting doctors from Knoxville and Sevierville performed tonsillectomies, appendectomies, and other minor surgeries; a dentist’s office where visiting dentists pulled teeth and filled cavities; or an optometrist’s office where visiting eye doctors performed vision tests and prescribed corrective lenses. There was, according to Nurse Phyllis Higinbotham, ample opportunity to perform such work. In her 1921 report to the Settlement School Committee, Higinbotham noted that “a classroom examination of eyes and mouths showed 79% needing attention of some kind -- teeth, tonsils, etc,” and that “the result of the eye and hearing tests will probably swell this number.”

In addition to its role as a public health clinic, the JNMHC also served as a clearinghouse for donated medical supplies. Among the items offered free of charge to Gatlinburg families were baby clothes, crutches, splints, hot water bottles, and other hard-to-come-by items. The settlement school’s only stipulation on loaning supplies to needy families was that they wash the items before returning them to the JNMHC.

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Interior, Jennie Nicole Memorial Health Care Center, circa 1920

Jennie Nicole Memorial Health Center

Immunizations, 1922

 
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