The College of Nursing at Florida State University has a significant history. Recently, Heritage & University Archives received a new accession from the College that illustrates when the College played a key role in being prepared for a nuclear catastrophe on American soil.
The newspaper clipping presented is from the spring of 1961, describing a “disaster drill” in an event of a plane crash and was given to the College by alumna Judith Butler White. White writes that this article describes the beginning of the implementation of the “worst-case scenario” preparation instated by President John F. Kennedy during the Cold War and that the Florida State University nursing students were part of this preparation plan. She recalls that a “Radiation Sign” and a “Location of Campus Assignment” in case of a nuclear disaster, was always hanging on her door in her room in Dorman Hall.
In October 1962, President Kennedy was informed by aircraft spies that Soviet nuclear missiles were placed within Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. Not only were crisis plans in an event of a nuclear disaster methodically and rapidly developed, the nursing students in the state of Florida were being trained within their programs for emergency care in an event of a nuclear attack within Florida.
Although most of America views the Cuban Missile Crisis as a tragedy that never occurred, White stated that the reality of a nuclear attack was very much a possibility and the State of Florida would have actual drills for its nursing students to aid the masses of victims if such a crisis did occur. In the article, it refers to nursing students collaborating in a “disaster drill” for a plane crash, when in reality they were being prepped for the first nuclear war that the world had ever experienced.
Shock and disbelief enveloped Florida State University’s campus after President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. Compared to the thousands of words being printed in world newspapers, on FSU’s campus, “a silence [fell] at the first heart-tearing announcement.” Students gathered around TVs and transistor radios in their dorms, on Landis Green, at the Sweet Shop, waiting for the confirmation: “Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States is dead.” During station breaks from the news, “heads would bow and tears fell without hesitation.” Classes were canceled, and a memorial convocation was held, featuring musical performances and an address from Dr. Gordon W. Blackwell, University President.
Blackwell acknowledged the difficulty for students being away from home during this time and tried to bring perspective to the event especially to the age group that had connected with President Kennedy in a way they had not connected with a president before: “There can be no question but that the late President caught up the enthusiasm of the young with his warm personality, the brightness of his mind, and his love for sports and the out-of-doors. He carried them forward with the vigor of his thinking which matched his vibrant personality.” Blackwell ended by challenging both students and faculty to carry forward Kennedy’s ideals, “As students and as teachers of new generations, let us move with firm resolve to replace fanaticism with tolerance and prejudice with understanding, so that each of us may retrieve from these tragic days something of personal significance and lasting value that this community, this state, this nation – yes, even this world, will become truly a better place in which to live.” [excerpts from The Selected Addresses of Gordon W. Blackwell, The Florida State University, 1965.]
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A capable and dynamic leader, as well as the first and only Catholic president to date, Kennedy was a symbol of the change that had begun to come over the United States during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Beloved by millions across the country, he could stir crowds to a frenzy simply by being in front of them, recalled Senator Claude Pepper in his autobiography, Eyewitness to a Century. After learning of President Kennedy’s assassination while at lunch with Mildred Pepper at the Democratic Club in Washington D.C., a stunned Pepper wrote in his diary:
Below is the typed entry pulled from Senator Pepper’s diary transcripts:
Later, Pepper would go on the air via a Miami radio station, WIOD, to inform his constituency of the tragic events of the day:
To the always traumatic experience of losing a world leader there was in the death of President Kennedy the added shock of assassination. Having witnessed firsthand the pain that the nation felt in the wake of the death of FDR, Pepper was all too familiar with the feelings of loss that his fellow Americans were enduring. Both Pepper and Kennedy saw eye to eye on many issues facing the nation including Civil Rights, elder care and the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, issues that Claude Pepper would continue to fight for until the end of his career in 1989. In addition to the images shown above, the Claude Pepper Library and Museum also holds further correspondence, ephemeral items and photographs relating to President Kennedy as well as those of the six other presidents that Pepper served under during his years in office.
The Claude Pepper Library and Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm. For further details please contact Robert Rubero at (850)644-9217.