Chapter 29 of Martha’s Children

Politics isn’t the only thing that makes strange bedfellows. For the sake of her vampire cop brother, Nora O’Donnell has agreed to carry out two assignments from the very same vampire who “turned” her brother. In doing so, she finds out just how strange bedfellows can be. For the strangeness creeps even into her own bedroom . . . in chapter 29 of Martha’s Children.

What we’re reading by Nora are actually extracts from her diary of those days in 1969. (How it is we happen to have them will eventually be explained. Well, mostly.) Nora takes for granted certain things which may not be familiar to readers today. In this chapter, she mentions that she was a candy striper. For those of you who don’t know, candy stripers were young girls, typically in high school, who did volunteer work at hospitals. They wore red-and-white striped jumpers, hence the name. I didn’t know this until I just looked it up, but the uniform and name comes from an East Orange, New Jersey high school project with the local hospital in 1944.

The cover of this book for young readers conveys both the helpfulness and the gender stereotype

The cover of this book for young readers conveys both the helpfulness and the gender stereotype

Candy stripers helped keep hospitals going. We owe them thanks for their volunteer service. That said, it’s a pity the program relied so much on a gender stereotype. This was what young girls were supposed to do: human service work for no pay. That was going to be the rest of their lives, after all, being wives, mothers, and volunteer workers for noble causes.

It appears that as gender stereotypes changed, candy striper programs went into decline. In many quarters they have abandoned the jumper, and have become simply “hospital volunteers.” Thanks to the old stereotypes, the term “candy striper” has become one of ridicule in some quarters, satire in others, and a subject for sexual humor as well. In fact, when I went looking for an image of a candy striper, it was a lot harder to find authentic images of working candy stripers than it was to find pictures of women dressed in sexually suggestive modifications of the original outfit.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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4 Responses to Chapter 29 of Martha’s Children

  1. Judy says:

    Bringing back some memories with this post. I graduated high school in 1969 on Clark Field AFB in the Philippines. We were there along with the other MACV families whose husband/fathers were in the provinces of VietNam. The PI was the closest base and so the fathers could come home once a month for 3 days. So naturally this was during the Viet Nam war and many wounded soldiers were brought into Clark for treatment. That was when I became a Candy Striper at the base hospital. I was a very gullible kid, even at 18, and when a room with four soldiers all claimed to have a link to the Naval Station where I was born, I believed it totally. Many years later it occurred to me they were just joshing!! But, I did enjoy volunteering and helping out. Because of soldiers coming for care we also had a lot of blood drives on base for any and all blood types as needed. This will sound strange but a date might be to go and donate blood together and then get a free steak dinner at the Officer’s Club or the NCO Club. I was probably a bit too naïve to see anything negative or sexual about the candy striper uniforms, it was just a good thing to do. The outfits now seem very locked in time and have a nostalgia all their own.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Ah! I snagged a candy striper reader! Thank you, Judy, for your account of your experience. And thank you for putting in the time and work as a candy striper, too.

      For those of you whose memories don’t go that far back, MACV was the acronym for the official name of the American military organization for Vietnam during the war there: Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The United States still had bases in the Philippine Islands at the time, a legacy of American administration of those islands between 1898 (during the Spanish-American War) and 1946 (when we relinquished possession to the new independent Philippine Republic).

  2. Judy says:

    Yes, my father was assigned to a province ironically named ‘Go Cong.’ Being the gentle and good person that he is, my father viewed his role as one of service helping the people of his province remain safe from invaders. A military man but also the son of a minister, he has always believed in the innate goodness of man and tends to operate with that basic perspective. Strange I know for a military guy. His favorite poem is “Abu Ben Adhem’ and so that probably is a peek into who he is.

    When we were in the PI from 1968 until 1970 they had begun closing bases. When they closed Mactan our base scuba club, the Aqua Falcons, inherited their gear!! Great memories!! Can I say best of times and worst of times without being trite?

    Also, my family has strong ties to the Philippines. My Grandmother on my mother’s side at 18 took a ship all alone to visit her soldier brother there. Of course then it was called Fort Stotsenberg, US Calvary Post. That would have been approx. 1919. She met another soldier there, fell in love and married him when they returned to the states. My father’s parents, also military, were at Ft. Stotsenberg in about 1934 or so when my father was around 10. So one grandmother was there at 18 and met my grandfather, my Dad was there at 10 with my other grandparents, and I was there at 18 with my parents. I do not know why the recent generations of our military family spent so much time in Asia when many of my friends spent more time in Europe. But, we loved it.

    Sorry for the digression.


    • Brian Bixby says:

      Bah! The digression is welcome.

      There are jingoists in the military, but there are also thoughtful members. Glad to hear your father was one of the latter. Back in my military history days, I remember one of my favorite American military leaders was Winfield Scott. He preferred sieges to trying to storm forts, because he knew he could keep the casualties down. He offered a truce to the Mexican government when he was winning the war because he wanted to end the American war with Mexico without shaming them by taking their capital city.

      Interesting how ties to the military and the Philippines were renewed from generation to generation in your family. I’ve nothing comparable in my family, as both my parents made sharp breaks with family tradition, in both cases from economic necessity. So, although I can trace back my family’s roots for many generations, the connections are mostly intellectual, not part of any ongoing family tradition.

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