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Plaster bandages explored

A patient receives a plaster cast for a broken leg at a local hospital. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Mrs. Bessie Moore lived in Marquette for many years at different points in her life.

In the late 1940s, she was living here with her second husband and granddaughter. Although she was blind following an accident, she was employed at St. Luke’s Hospital where she made plaster bandages used for casts.

Early plaster bandages were usually freshly made from Plaster of Paris, a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder (calcium sulfate hemihydrate), which hardens when moistened and allowed to dry.

The powder was kept in air tight containers, then applied on to crinoline, a stiff gauzelike material. Plaster of Paris was cheap, non-toxic and can easily be molded to the desired shapes and contours of the body. Skin irritation and allergies to the material is extremely rare.

Bessie worked every afternoon and was highly regarded by doctors and hospital attendants. One physician had said of her, “Not only was she of much assistance because hospitals are short of help, she also made plaster bandages better than the others.”

Her job at the hospital included covering crinoline with plaster powder and rolling it into proper lengths. Bandages were made in widths of three, four, and six inches.

Care was required while soaking dry bandage in water to prevent the plaster coming off the fabric and dissolving in water. If there was not enough Plaster of Paris, the bandage would not hold enough moisture and if there were some spots on the gauze that were not covered with the plaster, it would result in a dent or rough cast. Once mixed with water, the plaster of Paris gives out heat and quickly sets to a hard porous mass within 5 to 15 minutes.

Bessie used her own system of measuring: the spread of her hand was six inches, and that worked as well as a ruler. She averaged about 10 plaster bandages an hour and made approximately 50 in an afternoon.

In addition to her work at St. Luke’s, Bessie did all her own sewing, knitting, washing, ironing, cooking, and baking at home. She never had any trouble with baking or other recipes, however, and said once that it “was mostly guesswork anyway.”

She also made her granddaughter’s dresses and took care of any other sewing that was needed. When she had lived in Detroit before moving back to Marquette, she sewed in the League for the Handicapped.

Because she worked at lot with her hands, she was not able to learn Braille. Her fingertips were not sensitive enough to “read.”

Mrs. Moore also listened to a “talking book machine.” Similar to a phonograph, it could be turned on or off as desired. Each side of the record played for 15 minutes; enough records made up a book.

The U.S. Government furnished the machines and records through the Foundation for the Blind. She especially like stories from the Bible and war stories. She also listened to the radio and favored new commentaries and programs appealing to women such as “Queen for the Day” and Heart’s Desire.”

For a time after her accident when she lost her sight, she “could not doing anything.” But after three or four months, she found she could do almost anything. She never expected special favors because she was blind. One summer, she went cherry picking, and the owner of the cherry farm gave the new pickers the worst trees. The worker next to her did not realize she was blind. When the owner found out, he said had he known, he would have given her a better tree. But she did not want a break or any sympathy. “Anything a handicapped person does is done on his own and not through sympathy,” she said.

In April 1970, Bessie Moore died in Flint, MI where she had been living with one of her daughters.

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