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Interview with: Frances Heyck
Interviewed by: Dorothy Houghton / Deidre Denman Glover
Date: April 23, 1982
Archive Number: OHJL25.02
I: 00:06 This tape was produced on April 23rd, 1982 by volunteers of the Junior League of Houston at the Houston Public Library. It is one of a series on the history of volunteerism in Houston. This series is a segment of the oral history collection in the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The interviewers are Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton and Deidre Denman Glover. The subject of our interview is Ms. Frances Heyck. This is our second interview with Ms. Heyck.
I: In 1977 the Junior League made a gift of $10,000 to Texas Children’s Hospital to establish a fellowship in ambulatory pediatrics honoring Dr. Russell J Blatner. Would you please tell us a little bit more about the point at which Dr. Blatner came along in the development of the hospital and a little bit of the groundwork that preceded his coming?
FH: Okay. Dr. Blatner was the first physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s Hospital, and he was appointed that because he was also the first professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and chairman of the department of pediatrics. The position of physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s corresponds to whoever is the chairman of the department at Baylor, because Texas Children’s Hospital is an affiliated teaching hospital for Baylor, meaning that this hospital is part of the training program to train both medical students and graduate students, house offices in child care. So Dr. Blatner, when he was brought to Houston to found, in effect become the first chairman of the department of pediatrics, automatically then became the head of the staff at the Junior League clinic and head of the staff at Texas Children’s. He played much of a leadership role for the Houston pediatricians who had been trying to get a hospital and community interested in a long time, and there was a lot of interest but not much leadership.
I: Now, before his appointment as chairman of the department at Baylor, there had not been a chairman at that time. Is that right?
FH: That’s right. Well, it had not been Baylor. See, Baylor was brought here when the medical center was first organized. I forget—what is it, 1940?—1940 I think. And they did not have a full professor. They had Dr. George Salmon. His title was assistant professor, but he was not chairman of the department. In other words, there was not a real department of pediatrics at that point. There was a faculty member who taught pediatrics, but he was not—Baylor was in the process of being organized in Houston, and they were organizing one department after another, and the pediatric department had not yet been fully organized until Dr. Blatner came. Dr. Salmon did teach healers full-time, a pediatrician who was teaching pediatrics to the medical students. And he was a member of the Texas Children’s Foundation, which was the first committee you might say, fundraising, that was organized to develop funds for a children’s hospital. And on that committee, was headed by Dr.—I think Dr. David Greer chaired that committee because he was the president of the Houston Pediatric Society.
I: 04:18 I see.
FH: You must remember that it was the Houston pediatricians who really had been dreaming of a children’s hospital for many years. When Dr. Blatner came—when Dr. Salmon came he helped further this, and then when he resigned as a full-time faculty member and went into private practice, Baylor brought Dr. Blatner down from St. Louis, and Dr. Blatner took over the leadership role, you might say, of helping to plan for the hospital in conjunction with Dr. Greer and the Texas Children’s Foundation.
I: Were you in a position to see how he worked as he established this department of pediatrics?
FH: Well, I will never forget when I first saw him come, we were all eagerly awaiting his arrival in Houston, and he was appointed the chairman of the department in July. But he did not actually arrive in Houston until September, and I was at that time the clinic secretary in the Junior League clinic, which was at Hermann. In the afternoon I had been doing volunteer work for Dr. Salmon, so I was very keenly interested in helping to, of course, promote the further training of pediatricians, house staff and so forth, because I could see that that’s where good care is going to come from, is training people to do it. And at the time that I was in Hermann, Dr. Salmon had started a residency program in pediatrics, and we had two young men who were being trained to be residents. Between when Dr. Salmon left on July 1st and Dr. Blatner didn’t come until September, so there was a whole summer there where these two residents did not have in effect a “papa” and neither did I. (all laugh) 06:34 We felt very much lost. If you can understand that, we didn’t have anyone directing, in effect, so that we all eagerly awaited Dr. Blatner’s coming, and I remember I got word that he was coming, and he sent word that he wanted to meet with me because he knew that I had been in effect providing some continuity in the clinic and I was also—had been working for all the pediatric residents of Dr. Salmon. So he sent word he wanted to meet with me and on the floor at Hermann, on the pediatric floor, and I got my best bib and (unintelligible) out and I put on—I’ll never forget, it was symbolic as far as I was concerned—somebody had given me—I forget who, what’s the perfume? Who puts that perfume—New Horizons. But I deliberately put it on, (all laugh) because I was just so anxious. We needed this so badly. So I was there waiting for him to come, and I’ll never forget, he came bouncing down the hall with his little black bag, and he said “I’m Dr. Blatner. You’re Frances?” and I said “Yes.” He said “How about coming to work for me in the afternoon?” So he offered me the job of working for him as the first secretary in the department of pediatrics in the afternoon, and I worked for the clinic in the morning and went over to his office in the afternoon. And it was a marvelous experience because, as I say, I saw the medical school (unintelligible) way. I was responsible for doing all of his papers, his research papers, taking all of the minutes from the grand rounds which were held every Friday and—you know—you just learn an awful lot about care of children, about being the one who types up all of the notes, all of the papers, whatever. I was the only department of pediatrics secretary, believe it or not, for I think 6 years. Then I would work in—they said it was enormous experience, and I watched the department grow from I think he had—he brought one person. He brought his lab assistant with him, because his reputation was in the field of viruses. He is the one that discovered that St. Louis encephalitis is carried by mosquitoes. He’s the one that demonstrated—before that, they didn’t know how it was carried, how it was passed on. So his reputation was as a virologist, and he brought his laboratory assistant down with him to continue his studies in virus. And of course, being chairman of a new department which was being built up, there was a tremendous amount of administrative work that he had to do. This is what a chairman does, and I remember one time he had been here I guess about 9 months, and he shook his head one time. There were just papers all over, just papers everywhere, he said “You know, I knew there was going to be a lot of administration, but I had no idea that I would not have time at all to get back to my lab.” And he didn’t, from then on. But he was—so when he arrived, Houston had not only the Junior League clinic, Jeff Davis had a children’s clinic, the child guidance had children—taking care of children, Faith Home had children, the city clinics had children, and they didn’t have doctors, see. So that all of them would come to Dr. Blatner as the department head and ask for help for medical students and residents and faculty pediatricians to help with the care of children. So he in effect became a coordinator for child care in Houston.
I: 10:49 May I ask one thing, though? These clinics that you mentioned, the children’s clinics all over Houston, these are all clinics that were organized after the Junior League first had their clinic downtown?
FH: No. Well, let’s see.
I: I mean, what—the Junior League did have the first—
FH: That’s right, in 19—what was it, 1927, somewhere in there, right. Yes, that’s right. Jeff Davis did not come into being until the middle of the ‘30s, and the city clinics even later than that.
I: 11:26 Was it a problem to attract new pediatricians to the faculty here with such a new situation and no children’s hospital in town yet?
FH: No, Dr. Blatner had a marvelous reputation, you see, from his work with viruses in St. Louis, and he was known as a fine teacher and many times that had an awful lot to do with it. So he, you see, really we need to pay tribute to the fact that he is the one who really did get the whole project in operation, you might say. He brought—he helped bring into fruition the dream of the Houston pediatricians. And the money—the first money that was raised by the Pin Oak Horse Show with the Junior League’s help—went towards paying for Dr. Blatner to go along with an architect to visit all of the prominent children’s hospital in this country and in Mexico and in Canada, in order to get ideas of the latest, the best, and to translate that into a building. So he has provided that leadership from the very beginning, in conjunction, you see, with the Houston Pediatric Society and—
I: What personal abilities of his do you think made it possible for him to work so well with the doctors and the Junior League volunteers and to coordinate these various efforts that were going on to take care of the children in town?
FH: Well, he’s always had a great appreciation for the fact that—of what he was ultimately doing, which was serving a community and serving children, and it takes a whole team. It takes many different people, and he’s always been a person of vision to understand that, and to be able to appreciate the various roles. The roles of the volunteer, the roles of the practicing pediatrician, the roles of the fundraisers, it all contributes. No one can do it by themselves, and he was able to provide that visionary leadership, to understand and appreciate everybody’s part, and that it took many hands and many hearts, and he demonstrated it himself personally.
I: This is sort of a long-winded question if you’ll bear with me. I think I need to describe a little bit what I’m asking. Over the years, the Junior League has reviewed each of its projects regularly to consider whether they should be continued. In addition, the continuation of a children’s clinic project was seriously questioned in 1937 when there was a survey of social agencies which recommended that the Visiting Nurses Association and the city clinics really should take over the clinic functions. Again in 1950 there was an article in the Junior League news sheet and I quote “With numerous children’s hospitals being built in Houston, will our league merely be playing Lady Bountiful by continuing with the clinic? Should we not acquaint ourselves with the more pressing needs of the community?” Why do you think there have been repeated decisions, after careful analysis, to continue to fund the Junior League clinic and to provide volunteer support?
FH: 15:17 Well, I think that the function of the clinic has changed throughout the years. For instance, it’s not the same program today as it was when it was started in 1927. It may have gone under the same name, but now—and even when we moved the clinic into—it became a part of the medical center, first at Hermann and then at children’s hospital—the clinic became a program for those children who have had the most complicated kinds of problems, which was just about at the opposite end of the spectrum where it started, which was as a predominantly well-baby clinic. We are now doing just the opposite. In the old days when they started the clinic, if they had a child that was really sick, they could not take care of it. They would send it to a hospital, at that time Hermann Hospital. Now, we, the Junior League clinic, is the clinic for the very sick. It is a tertiary care clinic, as you might say, part of (unintelligible) as is Texas Children’s Hospital. So the function of the clinic has changed, even though the name has not changed and I think perhaps the League has always been interested in pioneering efforts and this is where the pioneering efforts are being made in the field of child care. The newest discoveries, the most advanced surgery, is continually going on at Texas Children’s because that’s what it’s for. That was—the League as a community organization can serve a very vital function in explaining the kind of care, and getting—as I’ve always got—very excited about finding out we can do something now we couldn’t do last year. And the need for community understanding the support for our new programs is of course extremely vital. So I don’t know why the League has always—except, perhaps, from that idea. Even now, new ways of caring for children are evolving every day, almost every year. It is not supporting in fact the same program.
I: Right. So it would be a misconception to state that it’s clung tenaciously to one program because the program has evolved so much over time, that there’s been some give and take on both sides.
FH: That’s right.
I: The reason why it has evolved over the years I assume goes back to the Junior League’s purpose of—one of their purposes of—showing—setting up an example of something that can be done in the community, and as we’ve said, there were no clinics before we came along, and then after other clinics were established, then we didn’t need to be in that situation, so we moved onto something else. Is that the reason why it has evolved the way it has?
FH: 18:50 Yes, I think so. And for that same reason, I think an organization like the Junior League is always needed in a setting like this, where the focus is on doing something better and newer, and constantly improving. That takes understanding. It takes community support to do that, and the League has always been a model of community support and interested in new ways of doing things, not content. Hopefully not content to stay still. It’s always been difficult to explain why—just the question you asked—unless you can have a chance to sit down and say “Well, look. It’s not really the same. It just sounds like the same.”
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Right. I have one last personal question. As a successful professional woman who has experienced volunteer work as well, how would you describe the changes in women’s roles in both their professional careers and volunteer careers in Houston in the time that you have seen that develop?
FH: Well, that’s a kind of hard one for me to answer because I actually haven’t thought about it. I guess I’ve just done it. I have not analyzed—you know—
I: You’ve certainly been someone who has helped show some of the rest of us how to do it. (laughs)
FH: Well, I think I’ve been most fortunate in that I happened to come along when there was a specific need for my—whatever skills or talents I’ve had. One of the things of course that I have been able to contribute is simply the fact that I’ve been here all my life. I understand, I know the community and when a new program came into Houston, which is the medical center, with new people, they needed a liaison with the community, which is exactly what the Junior League has afforded, which is what the League’s position has been. I would get the new people and their new ideas and it’s always been very stimulating. I’ve always said you can learn new things in at least many ways, but two ways are you go away and come back, or you can stay in one place and come to you, which in effect is exactly what’s happened. The role of women of course has—I’ve seen it grow and I have to say that I think it’s not going to last, but certainly there is a lot more understanding and respect for what women can do. In the medical profession it’s been very—great changes. I remember when I was working in the clinic and with Dr. Blatner and he would probably be the first one to tell you that when they had applicants for medical school, women were not exactly chosen. You know, we only had a very few. Now, I think the percentage is much, much higher, and when it came to selecting interns I would hear the comment over and over from some of the men faculty “Well, you know, she’ll get pregnant, so then you won’t have her” you know, so forth and so forth, and they would just automatically assume that the woman would not be able to carry on full-time sooner or later. Now, I think this has been not true now and they work side by side and are selected side by side with their abilities and skills rather than whether you’re a boy or girl. So I certainly have seen that happen.
I: 23:19 One thing that’s happening with the Junior League volunteers now is that some of them are beginning to work as research assistants, essentially on a volunteer basis, for some of the physicians on the staff. Does that kind of change indicate a change in the role of the volunteers? Is there some change in perception in the way that the doctors see what the volunteers can do?
FH: Well, I think perhaps it shows that doctors indeed can appreciate a little bit perhaps more of the abilities and skills that volunteers have, because I always say there’s really no difference between a volunteer and a professional except that a volunteer can only give a certain amount of time, it’s limited to—time is where a professional—that’s what you’re paying them for, to be there every day, it’s continuity. It’s not a matter of what you can do, but rather that you’re paying somebody to be there every day. You’re paying for continuity, which is—it’s just a real difference. Of course, I think a volunteer you really can’t pay. I don’t think you can pay for a volunteer. If you do, you have lost the whole purpose, I think, because one of the reasons why volunteers were sought to serve in institutions like hospitals is that they can bring once a week a fresh spirit into that hospital. You know, if you work with sick kids day in and day out it’s kind of hard to remain very excited or it might get to be a little bit old hat. But if you are coming in once a week, you are refocusing the whole point of the program and I think it’s always been a help to those who work there every day to refocus, to point out again what they’re really doing, which is trying to take care of sick children. So a volunteer brings in a fresh spirit. Now that is something you can’t pay for. I really think you can’t pay for that, and if you happen to be a volunteer and you’re not very satisfied at what you’re doing and you are not being able to bring that fresh spirit, well, then maybe you should have another placement, because it’s an invaluable asset to bring in, if that makes sense.
I: Thank you so much Ms. Heyck. We’ve really appreciated the opportunity to talk with you.
FH: Well, I think you all are doing a great thing. It’s kind of nice to know that there’s some of this that has been recorded. (tape ends 26:28)
(tape begins 26:38 and repeats from beginning all the way to end of tape at 53:22)