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Synopsis • Healing, Romance & Revolution

Synopsis • Healing, Romance & Revolution


Harriet Holbrook Smith (1897-1990) lived a life of adventure, education, world travel, professional accomplishment, wide friendships, and more. “Hat,” as she was known, was widely loved and respected. Hat retired from a full career in nursing, management, nursing education and professional leadership. Her contribution to nursing were significant to the field. There is no doubt she impacted and inspired thousands in the field.

Seminal to her life were two “tours of duty” with the Yale in China Program in Changsha, China (1921 – 1924 and 1926 - 1927). These years were filled with change: culturally, politically, socially, militarily and more. Hat was in the midst of these dynamics, developing herself, worldview and understanding of humanity.

Harriet evolves from a “wild eyed” student radical into a mature leader.

Following Harriet’s death, Carolyn, a great niece, knew there were several boxes containing Harriet’s letters, held captive in her brothers’ garages. With a little cajoling both gratefully released the boxes.

Exploration reveals: travel, adventure, cultural discovery, friendship and romance; personal and professional growth.

We chose her 1926-1927 letters because of the radical change in China.

  • First, is Harriet’s dilemma of being torn between dutiful daughter assisting her father in his medical practice with it’s boring medical procedures with “rather stupid evenings,” or returning to her beloved China, friends, students, patients and prospects of adventure. 
  • China wins that tug-of-war. 
  • She arrives to Kuomintang forces (Chinese rebels) and other warring factions being mostly an annoyance; yet, as the year progresses becoming dangerous. Add radical students, unions and anarchist disrupting the region and her hospital, making management impossible as the “inmates” start running the “asylum.” 
  • She vacations in Kulsan; has a lost weekend with Charlie; ends up in a “coil” of bathing suits doing “unscrupulous things.” Cares for wounded soldiers; negotiates with “crazies; faces draught, floods, disease and internal parasites. Simultaneously, the ever-enterprising Harriet operates a small import/export business. 
  • Always cool! A stay bullets from a nearby battle striking her porch as she enjoys a nap with total aplomb. 
  • She associates with fascinating, impactful adventurers from around the world. 
  • Never far from action; “I saw history in the making . . . our friends from the South continued nearly to Wuchang. Coming on the boat from Changsha . . . a few hours from Hankou . . . shots were fired at us, none came nearer than ¼ mile according to the Captain. That was quite near enough.” 
  • Meet Charlie, she comments, “He is fatter than before, . . . the same cheery person. . .“ “He's a dear but erratic as the deuce.” “. . . I am going to marry Charlie.” Does she? 
  • Protesting students demand: 

“Down with Anti-revolutionists”

“Down with Imperialism”
“Down with Militarism"
“Down with Commodore Classes”
"Down with Foreign Slaves"

Change a few words and we have Occupy Wall Street.
  • Healing, Romance & Revolution doesn’t pretend to be an accurate historical record, but rather a young woman’s reflection of her times from her perspective. More important, it is a story of adventure and inspiration. A must read! 
  • Harriet mixes everyday activities, social engagements, entrepreneurship, war, love and romance; friendship and professional responsibilities with balance, optimism, faith and hope and good humor
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