Cherry Ames: Student Nurse by Helen Wells

Cherry Ames Student NurseInformation

Goodreads: Cherry Ames: Student Nurse
Series: Cherry Ames #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1943


Eighteen-year-old Cherry Ames dreams of serving others as a nurse.  She sets off to nursing school to begin her training, but fears she will never pass her probationary period as long as the strict Dr. Wylie seems out to get her.


I have seen Cherry Ames compared to Nancy Drew and, on one level, the comparison makes a lot of sense.  Like Nancy, Cherry presents herself as a confident young woman possessed of all the skills she needs to succeed in a world where men still dominated many careers.  She launched onto the literary scene in the 1940s when she encouraged and inspired young girls not only to try a career in nursing but also to do so in order to help the war effort.  Her message—though never presented as a message in the book—is that girls can achieve anything if they persevere.

Nancy and Cherry share more than confidence, however.  Both are outgoing, cheerful women who seem to have an instinct for saying or doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.  However, though I now consider Nancy a bit of a Mary Sue, Cherry never grated on me the same way.  Her high spirits occasionally get her into trouble and she is human enough that she can mess up—big time—when put under pressure.  I felt like we could be friends and I found myself deeply invested in her worries and her fears, rooting her on as she struggled to with difficult patients and cheering for her when she made headway in her training.

The drama of nursing school makes for an exciting enough story, but apparently each book also contains a mini mystery.  This is where the comparisons to Nancy Drew breaks down.  Nancy is a detective; Cherry is a nurse.  Though Cherry may, in the line of duty, find herself enveloped in a mystery, the plot never focuses on it.  Nursing, studying, and friendships all come first.  I think that is important because it really sets the two apart. You don’t pick up a Cherry Ames story because you want Nancy Drew; you pick it up because you want Cherry.  She is not a copycat, but utterly and irrevocably herself.

Because the story proved so strong and Cherry so likeable, I was pleased to discover that the series has been reprinted since 2005.  This is something I would love to pass on to young girls, to inspire them to think about the kinds of jobs they would find worthwhile and the types of characteristics that can help them to achieve their goals.  I plan on finding a copy of the second book to discover whether Cherry will finally earn her coveted nurse’s cap.

2 thoughts on “Cherry Ames: Student Nurse by Helen Wells

  1. Jeweler's Granddaughter says:

    A really top-notch review of one of the twenty-four books in this beloved series. I enjoyed reading it, and recognizing many of the same analysis and feelings I had developed myself over the years of reading and rereading those beloved books since I was 9 years old. Bravo!!

    I had been gifted with the first four of the series – all first editions, bound in their traditional dark “cherry-red” bindings (A little-known connection between the physicality of the book, and the beloved heroine contained between those covers) – when I was 9 years old, and sick in bed with a different flu pandemic ravaging the East Coast.

    I was, of course, confined to my bed, except for necessary trips across the hall, and even an exam by my favorite pediatrician brought him to MY BED, not me to his office! This was well past the time when such things were at all common.

    My mother was trying to keep a sick little girl still with an active mind, and a voracious appetite for books, entertained between naps. She walked in my room with four dark red books, and handed them to me, smiling. She explained that she had received these same books when they were first published in the early to mid-40s, the first one coming out when my mom was also nine years old. She never acquired the entire set, since she married in 1956, while the books wrre still being wtitten and published! And, she was not only much too old to still be reading juvenile fiction, but had already lost whatever early desire she had developed to become a nurse, as most girls changed their minds several times during adolescence! She had attended college and Art School to develop her own artistic talents before leaving it to marry.

    Knowing also that I had developed a serious desire to become a nurse from a very young age – which I did NOT lose in adolescence, or as an adult – she knew these books would keep me from becoming too bored, at least within the time it took me to read them! I was a speed reader way back when, before there was a term for it, and by dinnertime that same night, I had zoomed through the majority of the first book!

    My brain is like a sponge, and I soaked up all the details of Cherry’s adventures (and misadventures) of the first year of nursing school kind of like a big sponge soaks up a basin full of water!

    By bed time, I had actually finished it, and was ready to start in on “Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse,” but my mother warned me she only had those four here in the house, so I better figure out a way to “ration” my reading of them, so they would last a little while!

    I agreed that maybe I had best wait at least until breakfast time the next morning, so I just started thumbing back through the first one I had just finished, just to kill a little time, and see if there were any other details I needed to fix a little more firmly in my feverish 9 year old mind!

    I ended up finishing all four in record time, and got through my recovery equally quickly! I was bored still, with nothing new to read, past Cherry’s beginning War-time adventures. So, I started to read them all again in order, just to keep them fresh in my mind. I already knew that nursing was my goal, but since it was well over 20 years since the fourth book had been written, and that womens’ place in the grand scheme of all things military had improved significantly in that time period, plus I had been learning about the participation of some members of my own family in that great conflict to bring down the evils of tyranny and fascism, it became the second part of that goal as well. I had decided that becoming an Air Force Nurse was the most satisfying and fulfilling I could choose for myself. The beginning tugs of the struggle for personal independence for women had made themselves known, and even by the time I was 12, I could feel the pangs of that struggle begin to affect my psyche.

    The books became a major player in my world, even though most all of them were published well before my birth. But, once word got out from my mother amongst aunts, and even in my own conversations to my cousins of my all-consuming interest, it became also a very simple thing to satisfy the need to find an affordable and appreciated birthday or Christmas gift for a pre-adolescent young lady! I acquired quite a few of those volumes, particularly those with the full color covers protecting the valuable stories inside! I stopped reading them by high school, but did manage to join the Air Force Jr ROTC my last two years of high school. It was an amazing and satisfying experience, setting a few records in that particular corps, becoming that corps/unit’s first female Officer, and creating the first all-female Drill Team. I also became the first female corps organizational officer, as Personnel Officer, which carried numerous responsibilities. My participation in that organization had many positive aspects on me personally as well.

    As an adult much later, I rediscovered my former interest in reading about Cherry’s exploits, and once eBay became a fixture in my shopping, I began collecting the last volumes I had missed over the years. Oddly enough, I already owned the final volume where Cherry became an office nurse for a couple of doctors practicing in a New York brownstone. And, a few of the previous volumes, in a rather hit-or-miss pattern, so I started filling in the gaps with missing editions. It seemed too that I missed some which contained some rather distressing episodes of nuclear material being used in medical care which ended up later creating some absolutely devastating after-effects, mostly when the victims were originally children! By the time the stories of these devastating treatments showed up the side effects, I had begun to read the stories in the book where Cherry was a participant in the treatments that caused the horrible side effects. I started feeling somewhat conflicted about the whole thing, but rationalized it as another of manymedical treatment where the long-term effects simply weren’t yet known, and the protocols required of the study and research participants on both sides of the aisle weren’t as stringent as they could be.

    The rest of the stories varied a good bit in quality, depending a good deal it seemed on which author was responsible for creating them! Of course, Helen Wells was the original author, and her stories seemed to wring true a lot more than the other author – Julie Tatum? – who stepped in for her for a few years in mid-series.

    All in all, they were mostly quite entertaining, and influential to a point, to a preteen girl who had developed essentially a sort of “crush” on nursing as basically a romanticized occupation, and combined with the “top note” of participation in a military conflict on a global scale, putting the heroine in dangerous sounding and appearing situations. Sh


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