Decision to pursue a career in nursing and managing as a single mother
Ziegler describes her decision to pursue an education and her experiences in nursing school. She begins by explaining how her first husband was abusive. At the advice of a counselor, Ziegler determined to return to school so that she could become self-sufficient. She recalls the process by which she obtained her degree, her eventual decision to leave her husband, and how she managed to combine her new career with the responsibilities of childrearing as a single mother with the help of her aunt.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
My first husband had a horrible temper and he wasn't
physically abusive, but very verbally abusive. So at one point when my
children were small, I went to see a counselor and it was a woman
counselor. I had wanted him to go with me. He wouldn't go, so
I went by myself and we didn't have a lot of money. I told
her what was going on and she said, "You need to find a
profession. Will he object to your going back to school?"
Because I only had a high school education at that time and I think I
was like about, oh twenty-four or twenty-six, something like that. She
said, "You need to go back to school and get you a degree to
raise these children, because he sounds like the type, he's
not going to pay child support and you could have a lot of problems. You
need to set some goals." So I did. That night I went home and
thought about it and the next day, I called the community college here
and went back to school. My husband had his own business, a very
successful business, but the money didn't matter. It was
peace of mind. He was a good person. He just had a lot of problems.
Anyway, that's a whole other story.
So I was taking my core classes and sat next to a woman who was in a
nursing program. She said, "You should go into
nursing." She said, "It's a great
profession." I said, "Oh God, I
wouldn't—." I asked her what were the
classes. She said, "Chemistry." I went, "Oh
God, I would never pass chemistry." I made good grades in high
school. Grade school and high school, I was always
an A/B student, but for some reason, I had a very negative feeling that
I couldn't do math or I couldn't do chemistry.
Just the sound of geometry and chemistry just like freaked me out. She
said, "You really should try it. You really should try
it." So I applied and was accepted. Out of like six hundred
applications, they only took, I think, a hundred and twelve and I got
in. So I figured it was meant to be. And I passed chemistry with flying
colors and geometry and all the other things I had to take, and
pharmacology, and got out of nursing school. I loved it. I loved nursing
- SARAH THUESEN:
Where did you do those courses?
- GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Jefferson Community College and then I had an AD in Nursing. And of
course having children, being around sick kids, you learn a lot just
from having children. So nursing seemed very natural to me. Anyway, I
had told my husband when I started school, and it took me like six
years, six or eight years to get through a two-year program, because I
lived out in Oldham County, which is right out of Jefferson County. It
is like a suburb of Jefferson County. I actually lived in Peewee Valley
and I had to commute between there to school. My son was like four. My
daughter was in school. So I had to do daycare with him, pick her up
from school. My husband would not help me at all. If he had to watch the
children, he called it babysitting. So I was the one that had to
arrange, so it took me quite awhile to get through school. The last two
years, I carpooled with another nurse who lived out that way. It made it
a little bit easier and we'd watch each other's
children when we had classes that were different. Anyway, when I started
school, I told him, I said, "If things haven't
changed when I graduate, I'm leaving." And I did.
Things didn't change.
- SARAH THUESEN:
What year would that have been?
- GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That was 1975. I think I was twenty-nine. So then I started work and
initially, I was making like four dollars and seventy-five cents. Now I
just graduated from nursing school. They were putting me on the
eleven-to-seven shift. I was going to be charge nurse and they said they
were going to give me six weeks training on the floor. So after two
weeks, they put me to the night shift and the first night, I had a
supervisor with me and the second night I show up and no
one's with me. And I'm like,
[unclear] . There were two LPNs, but I was still in charge.
We had like forty-eight patients. We had two aides. But back then, I
mean we did everything on the floor. It was supposed to be a cataract
unit. That's when they used to put cataract patients in the
hospital. We had GI bleeds. We had people with lung cancer. We had
everything. So anyway, I said something and they go, "Oh, you
can do it." I learned later on that that's what they
do. They put young people in and they go, "Oh, you can do it.
Don't worry about it." And they put you in a
position that you're risking someone's life, plus
your license, plus your psyche. If anything were to happen, how could
you live with yourself? I really was just out of school.
So anyway, I did that, but I was making like four seventy-five an hour. I
thought, "This is great." I chose to work eleven to
seven, because my aunt—I could have gone three to
eleven—I had an aunt who was about sixty. I moved to an
apartment, let my husband have the house, because he ran a business out
of our home. I took the kids and my car and their beds and moved. My
aunt lived in the apartment right behind us. Our walls were connected
and I put in an intercom system. My daughter at the time was, I guess,
around twelve and my son was about seven. I would put them to bed and
then I'd knock her on her door and tell her,
"I'm leaving for work." She would turn on
the intercom and she would listen for them and then she'd go
over in the morning and get them up and get their breakfasts. Then
I'd get home after and then I'd sleep during the
day and be home for them in the afternoon. It was crazy. I hated that
shift. But that's what I had to do. I
couldn't afford a sitter and my aunt did it for free.
She's still living. She's ninety-six. So anyway,
she was wonderful.