University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Mildred McKinley Abele papers, 1912-1948

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

This collection includes personal correspondence, examination notes from nursing school, earlier education materials, graduation certificates as well as a diary, bank book and CD of scanned images. The correspondence begins in her first year as a probationary nursing student (1927) at Cary Memorial Hospital in Caribou, Maine. The bulk of McKinley’s correspondence are written to her mother and sister in New Brunswick. These letters follow her educational experiences and chronicle her search for work in depression era America. The letters give insight into the life of a nurse working during the first half of the 20th century.

Biographical/Historical Note

Mildred Frances McKinley was born in the Miramichi River hamlet of Upper Nelson, New Brunswick on May 4, 1903, the next-to-youngest child of Harriet McGinnis McKinley and Charles McKinley. She studied at a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade. Because of the remoteness of her home and the poverty of her family, she was unable to attend high school because there was no money for a boarding house or for clothing. At the age of twenty-four, McKinley applied to Nursing School at the Cary Memorial Hospital in Caribou, Maine. Upon graduation, she worked in Maine, but yearned for the big city life.

On October 8, 1931, she “left for New York with Lundgren on sudden impulse,” but by December 1932 she was back in Caribou again, as work was scarce in New York. By November, 1933, however, she had returned to New York, and she remained there, doing both private-duty and hospital nursing. In December 1940, she married Charles Louis Abele, a hospital orderly, at the Little Church around the Corner in Manhattan. They lived in the Bronx and had three daughters, Joanne Margaret (1942), Jeanne Enid (1943), and Hollis Alexandra (1947). Mildred’s sister, Martha Kelley, came to live with the family and care for the children. In 1954, Mildred bought a house in Peekskill, New York, then, in 1962 moved to an apartment in Yonkers, New York. Charles died in 1965, and Mildred, having made sure that her daughters had all the education they would agree to, continued to work as a nurse in New York City until her death in 1968.