Christmas at the Vellore Medical School, circa 1939
Excerpts from a letter written by Dr. Ida B. Scudder soon after her return.
Reprinted from Scudder Bulletin, volume VII, (March 1940): 7.
“Well, Christmas is over and the New Year almost upon us. I had my celebration in Vellore as I was on Obstetric and Gynecological duty. Before Christmas, everyone was busy getting things ready. The nurses were planning their ward decorations: there were rehearsals for the Christmas plays; and everyone was doing up mysterious parcels for at least two weeks before.
“At the school the Christmas vespers was simple but effective and beautiful. It was in the chapel on a lovely clear evening, in the form of a pageant, with a reader—Aunt Ida [S.]—in a white gown, and with the choir in white carrying candles and sitting at one side to sing the appropriate carols. After the service everyone joined in carols around the central pool.
“At the hospital, Saturday night there was a children’s play which I missed because of a delivery case. The following night, the nurses gave their play in the hospital chapel. It was good and rather amusing too. They even had angels who sang as the ‘heavenly host.’ They were on a ladder outside the chapel leaning up against the operating block! After the play, the nurses all went around the wards carrying candles and singing. The wards were so pretty with their green lights. The girls do everything to make it a very special time for the patients.
“Early Christmas morning we wakened to the sound of carols and as we stood on the upper verandas we could see the Southern Cross so clear and beautiful: and the nurses were singing.
I always feel more homesick at that moment than at any other time—there is no time for it after that!—. I went up to the School then early and we had breakfast with a few of the medical students who had stayed there to help with some special work that the Anatomy Professor is doing to get our anatomy museum up to M.R.B.S. standard.* Then back to the hospital for a very full day. It always seems to be especially full and busy on Christmas day.
“First comes the time for the Christmas father to go about. The children’s ward is the high spot and the children love the bright Christmas tree. All were brought out on their beds and stretchers and every child received a toy. Some of those poor little youngsters had never seen such things before and many were very amusing in their delight over their playthings. Then all around the rest of the hospital went Santa carrying bright bags to the women. They do like them so much as in these bags are treasures like hairpins and puffed rice.
“In the afternoon there was a Christmas tree for the children of the servants and again it was fun to watch the youngsters, some of whom are very attractive. They got little dresses, tiny dolls and other appropriate toys or clothes.
“At night came the nurses Christmas dinner, out under the trees. Their presents came in a boat—most realistic too, made with a stretcher as a frame—with funnels and all the superstructure, named H. M. S Goodwill. The captain brought the boat into port and it was unloaded for the girls. It was a clever idea and well executed.
“It was a nice Christmas, but everyone was glad to get to bed.”[i]
* M.B. B. S. is the higher degree which the Indian Government is forcing Dr. Ida to train her girls for or shut the school. She is constantly preparing for it in hopes that she’ll get the money to carry on.
[i] Dr. Ida Belle Scudder was born in 1900 in Shelton, Nebraska, daughter of Lewis Weld Scudder and Cora Belle Jackson. She was a granddaughter of John Scudder and Laura Potter Sophia Weld and a great-granddaughter of the original India pioneer medical missionary, Dr. John Scudder and Harriet (Waterbury) Scudder. Dr. Ida B. trained as a radiologist before joining her aunt Ida Sophia Scudder at Christian Medical College at Vellore. For more information see Jennifer Georgia, Legacy and Challenge: The Story of Dr. Ida B. Scudder, (Saline, MI: McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., 1994), © 1994 Jennifer Georgia and the Scudder Association.