Frances Seppi Francis
Interviewed by Marci Farr
6 October 2010
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Frances Seppi Francis
6 October 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
State University and the Davis, Ogden and Weber County communities. By conducting carefully
researched, recorded, and transcribed interviews, the Oral History Program creates archival oral histories
intended for the widest possible use.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of
events. The interviews are transcribed, edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees
(as available), who are encouraged to augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and
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available. Archival copies are placed in Special Collections. The Stewart Library also houses the original
recording so researchers can gain a sense of the interviewee's voice and intonations.
The St. Benedict’s School of Nursing was founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Mount Benedict. The school
operated from April 1947 to 1968. Over the forty-one year period, the school had 605 students and 357
graduates. In 1966, the program became the basis for Weber State College’s Practical Nursing Program.
This oral history project was created to capture the memories of the graduates and to add to the history of
nursing education in Ogden. The interviews focus on their training, religion, and experiences working
with doctors, nurses, nuns, and patients at St. Benedict’s Hospital. This project received funding from the
Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Division of State History.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
account. It reflects personal opinion offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it
is partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Frances Seppi Francis, an oral history by
Marci Farr, 6 October 2010, WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
Frances Seppi Francis
Class of 1954
Frances Seppi Francis
Abstract: This is an oral history interview with Frances Seppi Francis, conducted by
Marci Farr and Sarah Langsdon, on October 6, 2010. In this interview, Frances
discusses her recollections and experiences with the St. Benedict’s School of
MF: This is Marci Farr and we are interviewing Fran Francis. She is a graduate of St.
Benedict’s School of Nursing. She graduated in 1954. It’s October 6, 2010 and
we’re interviewing her via telephone. She lives in Nevada City, California.
Tell us a little bit about your early life, where you grew up, a little bit about
your family and also where you attended school.
FF: I was born in Kemmerer, Wyoming. My parents were Italian immigrants so I’m
first generation here. My mother died when I was 3 ½ and I was raised by a
grandmother and a maiden aunt to the age of eleven. My father remarried at that
time so we moved with him and his new family to Utah. That’s what puts me in
Utah. I had an extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins so I had a lot of
support in that way.
MF: That’s good. Where did you attend school at? Did you graduate from Ogden
FF: I did.
MF: Why did you decide to become a nurse? I guess that’s the classic question.
FF: My grandmother, the one that had raised me, had a massive stroke. They
couldn’t do anything for her at that time. Each of her senses left one by one as
the clot deteriorated in her brain. So eventually she was incompetent and my
aunt was caring for her at home but then could no longer do it. It was just too
much. So our local hospital took her. They had no nursing homes then. So she
was in the wing of the hospital but sort of pushed off into a corner. They said they
didn’t have time to feed her. She had to be fed so I would go up after school and
feed her. I was about seven or eight. Even as young as I was, I observed that
she was not cared for very well; maybe because she wasn’t a real, so-called
‘patient’. She was always in a mess and she had huge bed sores and was there
for a whole year. I had the opportunity to observe this and I always thought, I
want to be a nurse but not that kind of nurse. That’s where I got it. I always
wanted to be a nurse. I never wanted to do anything else.
MF: Why did you select St. Benedicts’?
FF: First of all, I’m Roman Catholic and I think I wanted that influence in my life, that
of the nuns. They were very giving and spiritual and good role models for young
MF: Was this your first time away from home when you attended nurses training?
FF: I lived in Ogden with a step mother and my father. I did get a scholarship to help
pay for it. It was very expensive for someone in my financial situation.
MF: What was your cost?
FF: The tuition was $300 for three years. It included books, tuition, uniforms, room
and board, everything but personal spending money.
MF: Was it a Bamburger Scholarship that you received?
FF: No, I think it was an Elk or something like that. I don’t even remember what it
was- an organization in town. In lue of low tuition we worked long hours.
Essentially the students ran the hospital.
MF: Yes, I’m sure they probably did.
FF: In those days we had a lot of latitude. We did a lot of things that people probably
wouldn’t do now.
MF: You had such responsibility and you learned from it and became great nurses.
FF: Yes. We were very good nurses. St. Benedict’s had a wonderful reputation in the
community and around the area for the nurses they produced.
MF: So the word was spread that you were good nurses. So tell us a little bit about
when you first started training. What were your impressions?
FF: It was a little fear of the unknown and like you say, leaving home for the first time,
even though I was not unhappy to leave. I didn’t go back home until Christmas
MF: Oh, wow.
FF: It was a good thing. I had skipped a grade so I was only seventeen when I went. I
had worked as an aide the summer before I went into nurses training, so I had a
little idea of what I might be getting into. But really I had no idea. It was new. It
was different. It was kind of exciting being away from home for the first time.
MF: That’s good. Who was your roommate while you were in training?
FF: My roommate was Sally Leonardi. I’ll tell you that she was the best nurse of any
MF: That’s too bad.
FF: We started out with twenty four and only twelve graduated.
MF: That is a big drop.
FF: It was hard both mentally and physically.
MF: I’m sure. That would be. So who was your roommate after she left? Did you have
a roommate after she left?
FF: I did. I don’t even remember who they were. They were not memorable.
MF: That’s okay. Tell us a little bit about your classmates. Do you remember anything
about them, maybe some funny stories or things that happened while you were in
FF: Well, I will say that you really become close because of your shared experiences.
Some you didn’t like at all and some, like Sally, and a couple of other girls, were
special people. We still meet about once a year to catch up and just to be
MF: So did you guys ever break curfew, or try to sneak in?
FF: Oh, yes. That was kind of fun-not going to bed at the right time. The nuns used to
patrol the halls and make sure all the lights were out at a certain time.
MF: Tell us a little bit about the Sisters. What do you remember most about them?
FF: I would say they were strict and demanding. We respected them very much.
They expected a lot and they got it because of their high expectations.
MF: Who were some of your favorite Sisters that you remember?
FF: Sister Berno was good. There was a nun in the kitchen and I can’t even
remember her name. She used to work in the diet kitchen. She was very-I’m
talking like her-very, very direct with the diet kitchen.
MF: Oh, was it Sister Bonafice?
FF: Yes! Sister Bonafice. She was very persnickity and very precise. I can remember
she had coke bottle glasses which made her look very old. One day she took off
her glasses and I nearly died. Her face was the most beautiful thing you ever
saw. She was quite young with beautiful eyes. She didn’t match her voice in her
MF: Oh, how interesting. I love it. Was Jean Morton Barker there at that time?
FF: Yes, she was and she was also very strict, very professional. I’ll tell you a little
story. I was frightened to death, even though I had been an aide during the
summer, my first time caring for a patient for maybe AM or PM care. That was
our first clue into that world. I was standing outside the door of my patients’ room
and I was afraid to go in. I was just kind of trembling. And she came by and
pushed me in. Then there I was.
MF: That would be kind of scary.
FF: It was scary.
MF: We interviewed her a couple weeks ago. She’s so darling. Loved talking with her.
She’s so cute.
FF: She’s still alive?
MF: Yes, she is.
FF: Is she really old?
MF: I don’t even know but she’s so good. She’s sharp as a tact and still gets around
by herself. She’s amazing.
FF: Really? Oh, yes. Not only was she prim and proper but she always looked just
perfect. Her clothes, her cap, her uniform were always perfect.
MF: She’s cute.
FF: Is she in a rest home or something?
MF: No, she’s at her house still and takes care of herself.
FF: Really? Well, I’m seventy six so I can’t even imagine. Of course then, you know
how age is- when you’re seventeen, thirty is old. Did somebody tell you about the
car going over in the dam?
MF: Who told us about that? Did she tell us about that? Yeah.
FF: She might have because she was involved, since a couple of them died.
MF: One of them was your instructor right?
FF: Yes. McKeller. There was another one. Goldie. Her nickname was Goldie. She
wasn’t an instructor. She was a nurse that worked at the hospital. That was very
MF: She told us about that. You get so used to having these people there it would be
FF: Yes. It was a real tragedy for the hospital and for everyone involved.
MF: That would be hard. Tell us about some of your classes. Which ones were your
favorites, that you liked the most and enjoyed the most?
FF: I think my favorite was anatomy and physiology and Sister Estelle taught that.
MF: We’ve heard a lot about her.
FF: I was trying to think of some of the other things-The Elements of Nursing. We
had to know who the author of that book was. We always had to put that on
everything. The Elements of Nursing and then who it was by. We had
pharmacology and medical ethics but I think I was always more interested in the
touchable stuff than the book stuff.
MF: That’s good. Do you remember any of the doctors that you worked with? Tell us
a little bit about them.
FF: Oh, yes. Well, we had some prima donnas who were really just unbelievable. No
one would put up with it these days. They’d have tantrums, throw instruments
and do just real awful stuff.
MF: That would be awful.
FF: Yes, it was. Are you a nurse yourself?
MF: I’m not.
FF: Oh, you’re not. Okay. Nurses wouldn’t put up with that today. I’m trying to think of
our worst-Doctor Howe. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned him. I worked in
surgery a lot so you’re a little closer than on the floor.
MF: That’s true.
FF: So you get to see these people at their best and at their worst.
MF: I’m sure. That would be interesting to see the difference.
FF: From what is was to what it is now. Yes.
FF: We had really nice doctors too, I mean normal. But there were a few who really
thought they were special and put people down and were just awful. We were
frightened of the doctors as young students.
MF: That would be. They can intimidate you. Was Doctor Swindler there at that time?
FF: Yes. He was great.
MF: He taught and he also had surgery, right?
FF: Yes. He was terrific.
MF: Which of the rotations when you were on the different floors was your favorite
that you enjoyed the most?
FF: I think it was surgery because that’s what I went into after I graduated.
MF: Oh, okay. Which one was probably your least favorite?
FF: We had a few tuberculosis patients and that was the only disease I was kind of
afraid of so when I had to work there I was a little fearful of it.
MF: That would make you nervous.
FF: Really, it’s not that contagious.
MF: No. Probably just the unknown.
FF: Yes and just that although we worked with polio patients too I never had the
same feeling about polio.
MF: That is interesting. Do you have a favorite patient that you remember while you
were in training?
FF: Well we all remember, and I bet more people than one remember Mr. Esterly. He
was a sheep herder and he came into the hospital from out in the boonies and he
had cancer of the lower jaw. His whole jaw was full of maggots.
MF: Oh wow.
FF: Yes. Has anyone ever talked about this patient?
MF: Somebody mentioned him. Francis Bird mentioned him.
FF: Oh, she did?
MF: Yes, but I wasn’t here so you can tell the story.
FF: He just came in and it was something you’ve never seen and you’d never see
again. To see these worms eating this guys jaw! It was pretty bad. There’s not
another one like him. It’s the same guy if you hear about him with maggots in his
jaw. I had a few patients in our psych rotation and one was Mr. Jones. He was a
young man. He was obsessive compulsive and he would say, “She kept ‘em
shut.” “She kept ‘em shut.” That’s about all he said. The unit wasn’t very large,
maybe ten or twelve patients in psych rotation. I don’t even think that the Dee
Hospital had a psych unit.
MF: I don’t think they did. They went to Provo for theirs.
FF: Well, we as student nurses wouldn’t do this now. We would work nights and I had
one aide. I think I may have been a second year student. I’d have to have been.
Maybe even third, I’m not sure. We would work the night shift which would be
eleven to seven. We would put these patients into insulin coma. Now we had to
calculate the insulin according to how much the patient weighed and there were
a lot of other things. Then give them the shot and that would put them into a
coma and then you had to check to see how far down in the coma they were
because they’d start out light and get heavier as you go down. Then when the
morning shift came on, they would give them electric shock therapy. So when I
think back on it now, doing that, oh my gosh.
MF: Isn’t that crazy? It’s just unreal that in today’s world you just don’t know how
many twenty year old teenagers would be able to do that. It’s just unreal. It
MF: Did you go to Denver?
FF: Yes, we did.
MF: Tell us about going to Denver for pediatric rotation.
FF: I went with my two other friends. Sally had gone by then. It was very exciting for
most of us because we were going to have a private room. That was the highlight
of the whole thing. It really was because the rooms we had were small and no
privacy. That was a big thing. We didn’t have a pediatric unit at St. Benedict’s. It
was really hard to see so many children so sick. Denver Children’s was kind of a
renowned hospital in the area. I think they drew from a huge area so they had the
sickest of the sick. We saw things that you normally wouldn’t see.
MF: Oh, absolutely. I’m sure. Tell us a little bit about your capping ceremony. Do you
remember where it took place?
FF: It took place in the living room at the nursing home. It was the most exciting,
thrilling thing in my life at that time. To get your cap was really exciting. We had
beautiful caps. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them, but nobody wears them
now, of course. You looked like a nurse then. It was very exciting and they
always did things first class. It was beautiful and very well done. What else can I
MF: That’s good. What was your greatest challenge while in nurses training?
FF: Greatest challenge? Thank goodness you sent these questions. I haven’t been
reading off of this but I can see the question and I put down here “to care for the
patients as if they were Christ himself.” Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes harder.
But that’s their motto at St. Benedict’s.
MF: That would be hard, especially if they were not very nice.
FF: Oh, yes because you have the gamut from nice to rotten. I’ll tell you about
something that’s kind of interesting. Maybe no one else would say. We used to
get, there’s a monastery- Huntsville Monastery?
MF: Yes, up in Huntsville.
FF: They had these monks, young monks and they would come to be patients. One
of them was really, really cute! So it was sort of a fight to be the one to care for
MF: Tell us a little bit about graduation. Was your family able to come and what were
your impressions about finally making it through?
FF: My family came and it was again, a first class production. It was beautiful. Do you
have pictures of us?
MF: We have a few pictures of graduation.
FF: Honestly, I can always remember because I was so impressed. I hadn’t had a
bouquet of red roses in my life. We all carried a bouquet. Our uniforms were just
beautiful. We got to choose them. I still have mine. I can’t fit in it but I have it.
MF: What do you remember most about that day?
FF: I can remember, someone who signed in my yearbook put, “I hope your money
doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket,” because I was really poor during nurses
training. My roommate, Sally, she really helped me out a lot. I didn’t have any
money. I left home and didn��t go home until Christmas. I left home with nothing
because I had a falling out with my parents. I had planned to go to nurses
training. My step sister had planned to go and at the last minute she said she
wasn’t going to go, she was going to get married. So then, my step mother said,
well then you can’t go-meaning me. I said, well, I’m going. So I said, if you don’t
take me then I’ll find somebody who will. They did take me. They took my stuff up
and that was it and I didn’t go home until Christmas. My roommate helped a lot. I
guess that’s why she’s just so dear.
MF: Absolutely, she would be. What did you do after you graduated? Did you just stay
at St. Benedict’s?
FF: I did. I worked in surgery there for three years after I graduated and Marlene and
Joanne, the two other girls, and I got an apartment together right across the
street from the hospital. We had to take call a lot so it was very handy to be
close. Marlene had married. They made an exception for her as her husband
was going to Korea. After he came home and Joanne went back to school, I
couldn’t keep the apartment by myself so I had to go home.
MF: I bet that wasn’t very fun.
FF: I stayed there for awhile until I met my husband. We married and moved to San
MF: Well, we appreciate you letting us visit with you.
FF: You’re welcome.
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