The First Wyoming Public Health Nurses Chapter 2
Over the Mountain
In October 1936 Penny crossed over the Big Horn Mountains for her new job and home in Basin. She rented a room for $10 a month in Mr. and Mrs. KB. Russell’s home on South Seventh Street. “Basin in 1936 was a very busy town with booming oil field activity,” Penny recalls. “There was such a demand for rooms that Erma Cook, who ran the Markham Hotel, set up cots. “
Since I couldn’t cook in my room, I ate all of my meals at Mrs. Anderson’s boarding house that was located next door to the Russell’s. Three meals a day cost twenty-five dollars a month. And I rented a garage a couple blocks down the street for ten dollars a month so my pay of $100 a month went a long way.”
The first Big Horn County Public Health Office was located upstairs in the Hyde Building which was owned by a lawyer named Hyde. The building stood at the comer of 4th and C Street which is now the RW. Russell Memorial Park.
“I went to look at some office space in Natler’s Drug Store at the comer of 4th and B Street which is now Wheeler’s IGA Mr. Natler told me not to waste my time looking because Mr. Hyde had vacant space in his building. Obviously, Mr. Natler knew where my office would be before I did.”
As recorded in the 14th Biennial Report (1937·1938) of the State Board of Health, “The services of the public health nurse are those of health education, through service largely. In some instances talks are given, classes are taught in home hygiene, and 4-H Club projects are planned. The largest share of the nurse’s day is given over to individual or family teaching in the home.”
Penny remembers one of her most embarrassing moments.
“I was driving toward Otto when I saw diapers hanging on a clothesline. So, I stopped and asked the lady if I could see her baby” She angrily replied, “Them’s not diapers. Them’s dish towels!”; In those days diapers and dish towels were made out of the same material, and they looked alike.
Another time a little girl at the Hyattville School said, “Every time you come out here you wear the same dress. Don’t you have another dress?”
And once when Penny was talking about head lice at the Basin Grade School, Orville Wright, who was the superintendent, told her that whenever he thought a child had head lice, he moved the child close to the hot water radiator. The heat made the lice active and the child would start scratching. Orville laughed and said, “It works every time.”
Being the first public health nurse in the Big Horn Basin was not a glamorous job. The roads were bad, the distances were great, the people were poor, and the need for nursing services and education was great. Fortunately, Penny Gordon Johnson, the Basin’s first “Woman in Blue”, met every challenge head-on.
Penny Johnson "Woman in Blue"
BASIN ~Long-time Basin resident Penelope “Penny” Johnson, 95, passed away at the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008.
Penny was born July 27,1913, in Sheridan, the daughter of George Kindness and Ann (Mathiesen) Gordon, who immigrated to Wyoming from Aberdeenshire, Scotland. On Oct. 15, 1938, she married Fredrick Johnson in Sheridan. He preceded her in death on Aug. 24, 1986.
In 1936, she was one of four nurses to be hired as Wyoming’s first public health nurses. She was sent to the University of California at Berkeley for public health training. She became the first public health nurse in the Big Horn Basin when she started the public health nursing services for Big Horn County. Later, she was director of nurses for the Wyoming Tuberculosis Sanitarium and the Wyoming Retirement Center.