Sumter nurse spearheaded free milk program

BY SAMMY WAY
sammy@theitem.com
Posted 6/3/18

Reflections focuses on the contributions made by Miss Antonia Gibson for the children of Sumter. Her unwavering commitment to improving the standard of health of Sumter's citizens earned her numerous awards and accolades. This article focuses on her …

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Sumter nurse spearheaded free milk program

Machinery inside the Sumter Dairies Main Plant is seen in this photo.
Machinery inside the Sumter Dairies Main Plant is seen in this photo.
SUMTER ITEM FILE PHOTO
Posted

Reflections focuses on the contributions made by Miss Antonia Gibson for the children of Sumter. Her unwavering commitment to improving the standard of health of Sumter's citizens earned her numerous awards and accolades. This article focuses on her efforts to improve the health habits of Sumter's schoolchildren and the community groups she involved in implementing this innovative program. Information and photos were taken from The Sumter Item archives.

Miss Antonia Bentley Gibson, RN, city nurse, served Sumter in her profession for 42 years. She became involved in community service upon graduating from nurses training at Sumter Hospital, now Palmetto Health Tuomey, in 1902. Her service to the city was continuous except for a few years when she was engaged in private duty. Sponsored by the Civic League, Miss Gibson's work was financed through the City of Sumter, which assumed her salary in 1916. The county also contributed for work she did outside the city limits.

Nurse Gibson was born Sept. 22, 1875, in Charleston and moved to Sumter with her family at the age of 12. She graduated from the Sumter Institute in 1893 before entering the Sumter Hospital Training School where she received her degree in 1902. With the formation of the Civic League, Sumter's first charity organization, Miss Gibson's long association with the needy of Sumter began. In 1917, the city took responsibility for her salary as city nurse.

During World War II, Miss Gibson, who was also a Red Cross nurse, volunteered for overseas duty, yet decided not to leave, however, when the State Board of Health made a special request that public health nurses remain in the state. In 1944, she was presented the A. T. Heath Award for the year's outstanding citizen at the fourth-annual dinner given to honor recipients. "It was the first time a woman had won the distinction, and Mr. Heath, in presenting the handsome silver service, stated that the committee had 'outdone itself' in making such a splendid selection." Mr. Heath gave Miss Gipson a personal award, a $500 check, to be spent as she saw fit in her work among the underprivileged of the community. Two hundred persons attended the dinner with the Rotary, Pilot, Kiwanis and Lions clubs being represented. Committees from those service organizations selected Miss Gibson as the year's winner.

The Civic League Milk Fund of Sumter, one of seven local agencies, provided money collected in the annual Community Chest drive to furnish milk to needy children in Sumter. Its work had been recognized as vital for many years. Contributions to the Community and War Chest drive would aid this organization, providing nourishing milk to children who otherwise would not receive this vital supplement. Many citizens felt that this was the time when our city's children needed wholesome food and drink. The body, they thought, must be nourished to offset the mental anguish caused by the horrors of war. Our Army recognized this fact and provided milk for our fighting men. In like manner, many citizens vowed to see that our home front was not neglected. "Let us not forget the underprivileged children, for they are the men and women of tomorrow."

Miss Antonia Gibson modestly spoke of her work as "just a regular nursing job," but it was more than that. Most of her clients were families of meager means and looked up to her as they would to a kindly aunt who would take an interest in "baby's first tooth what Sonny made in arithmetic and where Grandpa's sorely needed pair of shoes is coming from." Miss Gibson's interest was a real one, her sympathy broad and genuine; years of experience had given her the wisdom to deal wisely with people. The help she rendered helped build self-respect rather than encourage dependence or the desire for coddling."

Miss Gibson was said to have assisted in more than 1,800 births, "with an uncounted number of babies being given the name Antonia." Miss Wilson died at the age of 74, after a long period of poor health. Her funeral services were held at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, and interment was conducted at Sumter Cemetery.