Our mother’s history begins with the Nugents of Rockport. The images bellow capture the Nugent clan gathered in front of Beaver Dam Farm, now the Babson Museum on Eastern Avenue. Mother’s grandmother, nee Mary Josephine Donovan, is seated in the middle flanked by four daughters. Behind them, stand eight sons, Henry, had by then settled in Vancouver.
Our mother, Josephine Rita, is seated below her grandmother. Mom’s mother, Josephine M. Nugent second from the left, married a Gloucester man, James Flynn. Jim Flynn’s family from New Hampshire settled in Bayview to work the quarries. This is a second marriage for James whose wife (Sommers) died in childbirth in 1904. Undoubtedly, James Flynn met Josephine M. Nugent through her brothers.
As a young man, James Flynn learned blacksmithing at the quarries under the tutelage of his father who managed quarry operations. In 1898, James Flynn teamed up with the Nugent brothers Robert and Charles to compete in tandem bicycle race along the Charles River in Cambridge. The threesome won the World’s One Mile Triple Championship in one minute fifty-five seconds.
Now married to Josephine, James Flynn ran a tavern and hotel across the street from the Gloucester depot, at 24 Railroad Ave. In 1907, their daughter, Josephine Rita (Jo) was born on the kitchen table at 93 Maplewood Ave. A few years following Jo’s birth came her brother, Arthur E. Flynn.
Journalist and art critic, Charles Giuliano, Jo’s son, published Gloucester Poems: Nugents of Rockport available at the Sawyer Free Library, Gloucester. It may be purchased through Amazon. His book is based on twelve hours of taped interviews with our mother, (JRF). These chats took place in the car while commuting from Palm Beach in the spring to her summer residence in Annisquam. She was a Floridian for nine months of the year.
As a child, Jo spent summers at Beaver Dam Farm following her Uncle Frank around the farm while he tended to the animals. The seeds of interest in medicine sprouted in the cow barn at Beaver Dam. Frank, a kind and gentle man was her mentor of sorts. Frank eventually became a veterinarian and Jo, his young protégé became a physician.
JRF: Beaver Dam was a three-story house with ten bedrooms. On the ground floor, was the winter kitchen. The summer kitchen was the stone kitchen.
They had milking cows and would deliver the milk twice each day. I remember them scrubbing down the milk house. Everything had to be sterile. It was a working farm and everyone did his or her chores.
I was just a little girl and my chores were playing and keeping out of trouble.
They cut their own hay for the winter, salt hay and the regular hay. During the summer, they gave fodder, which was bright green, to the cows. Up in the woods they had a pig farm in Dogtown Common. They slopped the pigs. They had a bullpen and handled the mating of the dairy herd.
She recalled hearing her grandmother weeping at night having lost three children in one year: her daughter Mary to tuberculosis, Robert in a motorcycle accident, and Jack thrown from a buggy by his spooked horse. The tragic year was 1913.
JRF: Charlie Nugent was a farmer all his life. He lived at Beaver Dam. He married late in life. He had four children and they all stayed in Gloucester.
Rob stayed in Gloucester and worked for the telegraph company. He married Molly Gibbs but they didn’t have children. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. Rob Nugent was driving the motorcycle down Nugent Stretch with someone on the back. A sweater got caught in the spokes and he was killed.
Jack, that’s Millie’s (Mildred Jewel) father, was killed by a horse. He was up in Gloucester with a new horse. He was thrown into a telegraph pole and died.
Mary Nugent was a young girl when she died of tuberculosis. She was about eighteen or so. She was ill for several months. It hit her intestines. Apparently from milk but they tested the cows. They would put drops in their eyes and if they got red they could carry tuberculosis. They had to be quarantined or done away with. They had raw milk. It wasn’t pasteurized at that time.
It was open house (at Beaver Dam) all the time. Anyone could come and visit and stay as long as they wanted. When they came, everyone pitched in. If it was a man, he got into a pair of dungarees and went out haying in the morning. They didn’t let them milk the cows because they would be too slow. The women would make pies and cakes.
In those days, we had washing out in the back yard. We had galvanized tubs up on a stand. One with soapy water and one with rinse water. They bought Soap Pine, a powdered soap, by the barrel. There was a washboard for scrubbing and you had the clotheslines. You dumped the water right over the lawn. There was no running water. It was well water. There was a pump in the kitchen. You kept a pitcher of water on the sink to prime the pump.
The toilets were outdoors. You walked through the woodshed and there were five toilets lined up. Different sizes with small ones for the children. It was nothing to have them all occupied at once. Chatting away. Yes. That was a place to go. It was a different odor not like bathrooms today. They put lye down the toilets. That took away the odor. The honey man would come every few months and dig it all out.
Saturday night we took baths. We washed our hands and feet every night. There were no showers so we were lucky to get that bath each week. It was in the kitchen. Mostly the adults would take their bath in the back or outhouse as they called it. Grammy would go first. It would take a couple of people to lift those tubs and empty them in the sink. You boiled the water. The kids took turns and had a bath in the same water. It wasn’t that bad because we washed up every night.
Everyone would go to Gloucester on Saturday night. All the young people were standing out on the street corner in front of the drug store. We would do a little shopping. Be seen and dressed up.
That was a big adventure. There were open cars that would ride around the Cape. It would stop in front of the house. The seats would go all across. It was a thrill to go up to Gloucester in the open car.
In the 1920s, Grammy (Mary J. Nugent) moved to Mt. Vernon Street. That’s near Our Lady of Good Voyage church. She called it,” moving to the city.” At that time, Georgie (Nugent) took over the farm then got rid of it when he bought Shepherd’s Farm on the other side of the road from Beaver Dam.
After James Flynn’s Gloucester tavern burned to the ground, he moved the family to 88 Gardner St., Allston in the Metropolitan Boston area.
JRF: The first bar he (her father, James Flynn) had was on Court Street, the Silver Dollar Bar. It was a men’s only bar. He was there a good number of years. That was during WWI and then from there he had the Shubert Inn across from the Metropolitan Theater. Then he had the Hotel Osborne. That was at the corner of Shawmut Avenue and Tremont Street. He did most of the plumbing there himself. He just knew plumbing. (He also operated The Café and Palm Gardens Restaurant at The Old Brigham’s, with dancing and a floorshow, at 642 Washington Street.)
My Father drove to Canada in a Pierce-Arrow. They would return with a load of whiskey driving through Smuggler’s Notch in New Hampshire. The family business was running hotels, bars and speakeasies.
I was taking elocution lessons and needed the tuition. Whenever I needed money, I would visit Dad at his bar. He would send Opie out to make me a steak with fried onions and oh, boy was that good. Then I had to stand up and recite for the people at the bar. Anything I knew poetry or prose. I would get up there.
Jo recalled delivering booze to his clients while in high school. “This is from Mr. Flynn,” she would say. He paid off the cops and remained open during Prohibition. Now and then, they would raid his place and smash beer barrels just for show.
As a teenager, Jo summered on Wheeler’s Point. Mary Delaney, later a teacher in Gloucester, directed a yearly play. They had dance parties every Saturday night hanging Japanese lanterns and spreading Ivory Snow on the porch floor for easy gliding. The selection of songs included: Yes! We have no Bananas, It Aint’ Goin’ to Rain No More, Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me. Jo recalled some of her friends: Fred Ellis, Eddy Sender, Fritz Ellis (later a coach at Tufts) and Arthur Haley, later a pharmacist.
JRF: We had early morning walks. There was a rope tied around our ankle and dangling out the window. The first one that woke up would make the rounds and pull the ropes. So, before anyone was up we would get together and take a walk. We would walk out to Washington Street and back. That was a very adventurous thing to do. People we didn’t like we wouldn’t pull their rope. They would get mad and we would say, “Oh was your rope out? We didn’t see it.”
It was always open house at the Flynn’s for friends and relatives; the Reichenbachers and Louise Cusick from Rockport would visit or stay.
JRF: Maude Henchcliff was my mother’s first cousin. She stayed for a number of years. Another friend was Helen “Nelly” White from Gloucester. Margaret Savage and Margaret Liberty also came from Gloucester. It seems Gloucester wasn’t that big and Nelly White’s father was a sea captain. They knew each other in Gloucester and later when they married and had families, they looked each other up. They renewed friendships and over the years, they became very warm and deep. Most of my mother’s friends were from way back in Gloucester. Mom’s friend Mrs. Goldberg liked the opera and symphony. She often invited my mother to go with her.
In spite of the depression, her father was able to set enough aside to pay Jo’s tuition at Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery first located on Newbury St. and later sold to the founders of Brandeis University. Jo was the only woman in her graduating class.
In 1932, Jo interned at Harbor Hospital on Coney Island in New York for fifty dollars a month. At the time, few hospitals had accommodations for women doctors. Ambulance duty was the requisite assignment at the outset of the internship. When on call, Jo slept in her uniform, “with one eye open and with my foot on the floor” as she had three minutes to answer the bell and hop onto the ambulance. There were drownings and mob executions on the waterfront and delivering babies at home. Any case involving more than ten stitches required hospitalization otherwise, procedures were performed on the spot. Before heading back to the hospital, she, the ambulance driver and the police officer who accompanied the ambulance would stop in Coney Island for cherry stone clams or a Nathan’s hot dog smothered in sauerkraut. During the car ride and taped interview, Charles pressed mom for more details from her days riding the ambulance.
“Were they Mafia hits?” he asked. “Oh yes, they used shotguns to blow heads off.” When asked how she knew they were Mafia victims, she replied, “They usually vomited spaghetti.”
Though Jo got along with her colleagues, the necessity to prove her worth persisted. She characterized herself as a “plugga”, someone who never gives up in the face of adversity. Jo did not consider herself a feminist; she was a woman confronted with the endless challenges of working in a man’s world. Jo was a straight shooter; she told it like it is and would not be deterred.
JRF: You had no privileges as a woman. They expected more of you. Because there was an antagonism toward women. They were looking for a slipup, a little something that you did.
Jo met her husband, Dr. Charles Giuliano, then a resident in surgery at Coney Island Hospital. She could not stand the arrogant young resident. So much so, she refused to bring him cases and had her ambulance divert patients to other hospitals. Charles pursued her with When Irish Eyes are Smiling serenaded on his ukulele and requested her assistance on house calls to perform tonsillectomies. The house calls were followed by dinner and a movie. After one such outing, Charles asked if she knew what he had in the trunk of his car. When he declared it was the suit he would wear to marry her, she was furious. That raised her Irish dander. At this point, they were not yet on a first name basis. The ever-confident Dr. Giuliano knew what he wanted and in spite of their many differences, Jo soon took him seriously. They were married within three months of their acquaintance.
After a honeymoon weekend in the Catskills, Charles drove Jo back to the hospital dormitory where she resided for six months. This was not a good start to their marriage but in the depression, they had few options. During those hard times, “Doc” was the eldest and primary bread earner for a Sicilian family of nine living in Brooklyn. His father had emigrated from Palermo and sold lemons in the local open-air market.
Jo eventually put her foot down and they rented an apartment on Clinton St. in Brooklyn. There Dr. Flynn administered a home office, established a small practice and raised her daughter, Josephine (Henley-Moonves) and son, Charles.
During the war years, an opportunity arose to be closer to her family in Massachusetts and to take over the practice of her friend Dr. Robert Fulton Carmody on Beacon St. in Brookline. After a year or so, Jo’s husband reunited with the family giving up his staff position at Bellevue Hospital.
Dr. Flynn practiced family medicine the old-fashioned way at her home-office on Beacon St. in Brookline. She made house calls in the morning, had afternoon office hours, and held evening hours, three days a week. She sewed and lanced, doled out medicine and practical advice, delivered generations of babies; including nieces and nephews, pierced ears, set broken bones and performed circumcisions. The general practitioner did it all in her well-equipped office. Her sister, Mary Sullivan was the office manager. An office visit was two dollars and a house call three. (Office visits bounced to $5 before she retired in 1970).
In the 1940s, the Flynn/Giuliano family summered at Red Gates on Coggeshall Rd. in Lanesville. Longing to establish roots, Jo and Charles purchased property in Annisquam. In 1948, they built a summerhouse in time for the birth of their third child, Pippy.
While practicing medicine, Jo didn’t have time to develop hobbies but taking photos and home movies were second nature. Jo documented all major family events with her Bell and Howell, 16mm camera. She had an array of hand-held and standing lights that blinded her subjects. Jo’s movies were better than most because of her judicious cutting and splicing, her timing of scenes and her use of a light meter to get the exposure just right. Her movies were always in demand at family gatherings.
At the age of 65 and 72, Jo and Charles retired from practice and began a new life in Palm Beach, FL. Their friends from Annisquam, Nate and Helen Ross soon joined them in the condo unit next door. Jo didn’t miss a beat. She enjoyed theater, opera, museums, lunches and cocktail parties. In retirement, she dabbled in jewelry making, enameling, decoupage and finally discovered her passion for oil painting at her local art studio in Lake Worth.
In the summer months, Jo painted with prominent Gloucester artists: Marion Williams Steele, Bob Benham, Helen Van Wyk and her longtime friend, Bernie Gerstner. She soaked up all she could going to demonstrations and lectures. She studied, made color charts, took photos of scenes and painted en plein air. By summer’s end, Jo had a body of work that she took to the little studio in Lake Worth. Jo was a prolific painter. A Gloucester antique dealer reported that she had collectors asking for her work.
Josephine R. Flynn M.D. was a role model to an extended family that regarded her affectionately as, the Matriarch, or the Chief. She was known for a sharp wit, sound advice, and inventive use of language.
This is an example of her advice to son Charles recorded on tape:
JRF: You’ve got to keep busy, kid. That’s what keeps you young and alive. Don’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself. Get up and do something. Make a contribution. Love is service.