I was digging through a box of old books at a garage sale last weekend when I spied this one, Cherry Ames: Dude Ranch Nurse. I know you won't be surprised that the name "Cherry" jumped out at me as quickly as that "oh, yeah, cowboy, I am indeed a bad lady all buttoned up in this stifling nurse's uniform" in her eye.I set it aside.
What in the world was this Cherry lady was doing dressed in white on a dude ranch with a Ken Doll cowboy? I needed to know. It looks a little raunchy, and I'll be very honest -- sometimes the old-fashioned way is still good stuff, even when it is published in 1953. Or at least that is what I thought until my mom wandered over, also caught site of Cherry Ames and her dude ranch suiter and squealed.
"I read almost all of those growing up! I loved Cherry Ames books!"
That's when the jacket got a little dustier.
"Wait...what?" I was confused. When she was growing up?
"Oh yeah," my mom explained, "Cherry Ames was a series of mystery books for girls. I read almost all of them growing up."
I put the book back. It was overpriced anyway. I didn't need overpriced and under-sexed. Nor did I need young adult literature from the '40s.
But when I looked into the adventures of Cherry Ames online, I found that she was a little more suspect that my mother made her seem. Apparently created in an effort to make nursing appeal to girls during war time, the Cherry Ames character was guided into her career by a kindly older gentleman (uh-hmmm), job-hopped from 1948-1963 (I see), remained single throughout her good works, with the exception of a few short-lived beaux like one Dr. "Lex" Upham (which just sounds dirty).
Cherry, short for Charity, got around in her caretaking duties. As 27 titles penned by two authors indicate, Cherry was a Student Nurse, Senior Nurse, Army Nurse, Chief Nurse, Veterans' Nurse, Flight Nurse, Camp Nurse, and Rural Nurse. She had some lapses in her ambition, plateauing a bit as Rest Home Nurse, Staff Nurse, Clinic Nurse, Companion Nurse and the confusing Department Store Nurse ("Help! Someone! My finger's been caught in the old-timey cash register! It won't stop dinging!"). To her credit, Cherry did have some wilder times as Jungle Nurse, Boarding School Nurse, Ski Nurse, Mountaineer Nurse, Cruise Nurse, Private Duty Nurse, Island Nurse, Night Supervisor and of course, during The Mystery in the Doctor's Office.
I wonder how many girls were inspired to grow up and become nurses due to hours spent curled up in a window seat reading Cherry Ames books, only to be deeply disappointed to learn no one would need them to figure out where the missing Oxycotin went or why Nice Mr. Hypochondriac died of a fake disease. I wonder if they looked at those covers the way I did and assumed they could lead risque lives of intrigue and neatly pressed uniforms and swarthy temporary boyfriends with names like (ahem) Lex. I wonder how many of them ended up hating poor Cherry, who seemingly never lived anywhere for long and for whom trouble and suspense seemed to follow her sensible, no-squeak white leather lace-ups.
Regardless of whether she was pure as her come-hither smile or more savvy than "The Medium", I love that Cherry Ames existed for girls. I read that proceeds from the books helped fund nursing scholarships. There were spin-offs, including a board game inspired by these global nursing adventures. Best of all, Cherry Ames duped criminals and stepped in where men and her superiors (probably also men) failed, and probably showed girls that women are complex, cunning, ambitious, and...hey, who knows?...maybe raunchier than what's in print.