Helen Pearl Lay Watson Residency

We are excited to launch the Training in Abortion Care (TAC) Helen Pearl Lay Watson (HPLW) Residency for registered nurses. Helen was a nurse leader and pro-choice supporter who practiced for 54 years. Her granddaughter, bioethics professor Katie Watson, describes her as being "an incredibly smart woman who made a bold move for a coal miner’s daughter in 1934 to leave her home and eight siblings in Kentucky to pursue a professional education in another state, and to have a nursing career her whole life even as she raised her family. After retirement Helen watched the news every night, read The New Yorker, and loved to discuss current events and Democratic Party politics. She was an unassuming, resilient woman who handled whatever life brought her way with aplomb, and always supported her granddaughters’ educational and professional pursuits."

Helen’s granddaughters Julie Watson and Katie Watson are honoring her legacy by supporting the development of a Residency program that will allow NSRH to provide nurses with more opportunities for clinical education within the scope of practice in their given region. This experience is critical for expanding access to full-spectrum sexual and reproductive healthcare, including abortion care. The HPLW Fellowship is a six-month long residency that will train registered nurses in abortion care at partnering clinics in Tennessee and Kentucky, the states where Helen was raised and educated. 

The HPLW Residency will also include supporting advocacy and interprofessional programming in order to build community and activism skills among the cohort.

Click here for more information on the Training in Abortion Care (TAC) Program

Helen Pearl Lay Watson Timeline

1911: Helen Pearl Lay was born June 23, 1911 in Anthras, Tennessee. She was one of nine children raised by her mother Etta, and her father Nathan, who was a coal miner.

1930: Helen graduated as the valedictorian from Harlan High School, Harlan Kentucky. Mills College offered her a full scholarship, which she had to decline because her family could not afford to buy her a train ticket to California.

1934: Helen graduated from the Fort Sanders Hospital School of Nursing, Knoxville TN (one of a class of 15 women).

1935: Helen married Oscar Mauldin Watson, a Tennessee native and U of Tennessee graduate who she met in an operating room when she was a nursing student and he was a medical student.

1936: Helen and her husband had their first of three sons – Oscar Michael Watson – at Fort Sanders Hospital in Knoxville KY. Their son John was born in 1938 and their son Tom was born in 1941. (Sadly, Tom died in 1964 and John died in 1988. Michael died in 2012.)

1937-40: Helen’s husband Oscar Mauldin Watson received his MD in 1937 from The College of Medicine of The University of Tennessee. The family moved to Bridgeport Texas, where Oscar and Helen opened a clinic that Helen  described to her granddaughters as an “8 bed hospital” that they ran themselves.

1940s-50s: The family moved to Denver Colorado, where Helen worked as a nurse, receptionist and bookkeeper with her husband in a private practice.

1964-65: Helen and Oscar moved to Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia. They were the only doctor & nurse on the island.

1969: Oscar died of cancer and Helen moved to Danville Virginia, where she worked full-time as a nurse at Memorial Hospital and she was an “RN Team Leader.”

1988: Helen retired from Memorial Hospital and moved to West Lafayette Indiana, where her oldest son Michael lived (and worked as an anthropology professor at Purdue University) and his two girls (Katie & Julie) had been raised.

2005: Helen died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93.