Employment opportunities for women in the early 20th century were scarce and limited to certain occupations, such as nursing, due to the mindset of the era that women could bide their time by working until they got married.
Born in 1900, Mary Hamilton Shafer Motherway was a woman who wanted to work. Upon graduation from high school, she attended business college in Washington, D.C., before she briefly attended the William and Mary College Extension in Norfolk, Va. Then, in 1926, she earned a nursing degree at Providence Hospital School of Nursing in Washington. Her veil from the 1920s illustrates a stage in the evolution of nurses’ uniforms. The veil was folded and pinned to her hair. Early nurses’ head coverings took their form from the head coverings of nuns’ habits.
Motherway’s new career path as a nurse led her to volunteer at the Panama Canal. The United States completed the canal in 1914, but workers maintained a presence to provide continual maintenance. There she met James D. Motherway, originally from Boston, and they married in 1927. He died 10 years later in the Balboa Canal District.
Mary Motherway returned to the United States to the home where she was raised near Burkittsville. She was a veteran of World War II, serving in the U.S. Department of Public Health Services as a junior assistant nurse officer, and was later assigned to work in the public information office at Fort Detrick in 1954. Motherway retired from federal work after 28 years in 1964. She volunteered and traveled for the rest of her life, which was considerable. She died at the age of 103 in 2004.