By Peggy Sue McRae
March is Women’s History Month. In celebration of women’s history and in honor of her dedicated contribution to the well-being of our community, let us remember Elsie Scott. Scott arrived in San Juan County in the late 1930s to be our county public health nurse and assist the county’s physician. She established what we now value as excellence in our first responders by essentially being on call for every medical emergency countywide.
After graduating High School in Wenatchee’s class of 1918 Scott began her study of nursing at the Minor Hospital Nursing School in Seattle. She graduated from the University of Washington’s Public Health Program in 1928 and began her career in Public Health in Clallam County, on the Olympic Peninsula. There she drove the muddy logging roads in her Model A Ford to reach her patients. She once slid off the road only to have the car, with her in it, lifted back onto the road by a group of loggers. *
By the late 1930s Elsie Scott held the position of public nurse for San Juan County.
Here she faced the challenges of serving a diverse population scattered throughout the islands. Besides clinic days set up in Friday Harbor and on Lopez and Orcas she was perpetually on call for emergencies. She kept 2 medical bags and a travel bag of personal items ready to go at all times. It was not unusual for her to be dropped off on a stormy beach to be met by people who would deliver her to her patients.
Besides her nursing duties “Miss Scott” was a renowned public speaker. She worked with the schools promoting family and children’s health and was vigilant in protecting our community from tuberculosis. Some of my friends still recall as school children the annual clinics where they were inoculated against the likes of diphtheria and smallpox.
Scott taught first-aid and home nursing classes, equipped schools with first-aid supplies, and kept track of communicable diseases. By the 1960s her reputation grew to the extent that she was profiled in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as, “The Florence Nightingale of the San Juans.”
When I met Elsie I was a young nurse’s aid at what was then the Islands Convalescent Center (Later the Life Care Center) where she spent her last years. I once asked her why she never married. Her answer? “I didn’t have time!”
*For more information about Elsie Scott I highly recommend, Scott, Elsie (1898-1983) by Lynn Weber/Roochvarg – HistoryLink.org Essay 20946.