Jan. 19-25, 2001
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School of Nursing celebrates 100 years

By Valarie Massie

nursing students
Nursing students care for pediatric patients in 1949.

This is a shorter version of an article published in the winter issue of Albemarle magazine.

Rain swept against her unceasingly. Young nursing student Mary Chambers peered at an unkind sky from beneath the rim of her cowl. She turned her gaze ahead, toward the muddy track before her, a rutted trail made worse by the wagons that had tried to pass earlier. With a determined sigh, she re-tucked her skirts and wet cloak into her waistband and trekked onward. Tiny Cynthia Toms lay sick at home, in dire need of Mary's training, and no matter what, Mary would get there. She paused once more, glancing back toward Charlottesville, which lay sprawled in the valley below. Mr. Jefferson's Rotunda gleamed with each flash of lightning.

This candle-lit procession was part of an annual ceremony after the second year, when nursing students received the blue band on their cap. In 1974 the requirement of wearing a cap while on duty was discontinued.

Resuming her journey through mud that would surely ruin her new black shoes, her mind drifted to the hospital where she lived and worked. This home nursing was something she hadn't bargained for when she agreed to follow a nursing vocation. Her body longed for the clean, quiet halls of the University Hospital, the rustle of starched skirts as her sister nurses checked their patients, the smell of alcohol permeating the huge wards and the muted hum as patients dictated letters for their families.

The Toms' house loomed large before her, coming out of the rain-swept countryside like a wooden prow from a stormy sea. She knew it was the right place, because Josiah Toms had told her supervisor he'd leave a scarlet cloth on the fence post. The tattered cloth now rode the wind like a demented elf.

Inside, there was an eerie stillness, a calm in the center of the storm. Cynthia lay bundled in a small four-poster, her brothers and sisters playing near the fire. Mary closed the door and faced the worried parents, sweeping off her cloak and hanging it next to the fireplace. She adjusted her wide cap and smoothed her uniform, as gasps of admiration sounded from the children.

"Now, here's what we need to do," she said firmly. Cynthia's recovery was now in her capable hands.

For about 100 years, University of Virginia nurses have been dedicating their lives to the pursuit of wellness battling against illness and despair.

Formal nursing began in Charlottesville with a class of three who graduated in the fall of 1903. The original nursing course, a two-year program, was founded to provide nurses for the growing U.Va. Hospital. The students lived in the top floor of the hospital and spent most of their educational time in hands-on training.

Barbara Brodie, the Madge M. Jones Professor of Nursing, has been on the faculty for more than 30 years. The director of the Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, she wrote Mr. Jefferson's Nurses, a new book celebrating the Nursing School's 100-year history. It is available at the University Bookstore or through the Nursing School. (Click on Brodie's photo)

"Student nurses were a good labor force," said Barbara Brodie, Madge M. Jones Professor of Nursing at U.Va. and director of the Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. "They were eager to learn, intelligent and dedicated, working long hours for nothing."

These original nurses not only traveled afield, but also dedicated time toward hospital work. Nurses knew to follow three primary directives: keep the skin intact, observe and report to the physicians and follow the physicians' instructions. Many of these early nurses had little or no high school education, but after two years of intensive training, they earned a nursing diploma and could pass the state licensure exam to become a registered nurse. Virginia was one of only four states in the early 1900s, along with New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, that licensed nurses, as well as physicians.

In 1926, alumnae of the University's original two-year nursing program raised $50,000 to open a program dedicated solely to the education of women. This led to the Sadie Heath Cabaniss Memorial School of Nursing Education, which provided young nurses with quality education far beyond hands-on hospital experience.

Yet it wasn't until after World War II that nursing education was moved out of the hospitals and into colleges and universities. It was a slow process for nurses -- and women -- to be viewed seriously in the world of education. "We did go from a semi-domestic vocation to training to professional education," Brodie said. "Nursing advances as medicine advances, but it has been a struggle. "Entering the diploma program was a little like entering a nunnery," Brodie explained. "You lived with all girls, and there was a ban on marriage in the early days." World War II also led to an appreciation of the value of nursing care, and the federal government, pushed by President Franklin Roosevelt, stepped in to provide incentives for young women to become nurses. Properly trained, they had the opportunity of serving in the Cadet Nurse Corps.

U.Va. nurses
After training in 1942, nurses of U.Va.'s 8th Evacuation Hospital Unit followed the U.S. Fifth Army in its military engagements in North Africa and Italy.

"The nursing program was outstanding," said Kathryn "Kitty" McGee Hammond, a 1949 U.Va. nursing graduate. Fascinated by a nurse who had visited her Pennsylvania high school with wartime advice for medical emergencies, Hammond decided to pursue nursing as a career. As fate would have it, that visiting nurse happened to be a graduate of the U.Va. nursing school and helped young Hammond and two other classmates enter the program. Hammond started her nursing training in 1943 at the age of 17. Getting "capped" a year later, in August 1944, made her soar as she accepted a wealth of new responsibility as an adult and as a nurse.

"We had a lot of responsibility for kids that age, but I felt like I was on top of the world," she said.

About 164,000 nurses signed up for the government nursing programs, receiving paid tuition as well as $15 each month the first year of nursing school, $20 each month the second year, and a full $30 per month the final year. At graduation, they were allowed to choose whether they wanted to go into military service or stay in civilian duty at a U.S. hospital.

After the war, more nurses were needed in a time when women were marrying the returning soldiers and staying home as housewives instead of working, Brodie noted. Even Hammond's training was interrupted by becoming a wife and mother. She returned to school later, however, and fell in love with nursing. She devoted 40 years to pediatric nursing and teaching pediatric care at the U.Va. School of Medicine.

Men showed that they could excel in nursing after the first male was admitted into the Nursing School in 1962, and today they make up about 7 percent of the class.

In 1950 a baccalaureate program was added to the nursing curriculum at U.Va., yet women still had to go to neighboring schools, such as Mary Washington or Randolph Macon, to study two years of arts and sciences before being accepted into the four-year nursing-degree program. This situation continued until the late 1970s, when the University finally embraced full coeducation for undergraduates.

The 1950s and '60s saw a huge growth in the U.Va. hospital and an even more pressing need for nurses. This required addressing nursing as a separate educational issue due to a need for graduate work in nursing research, clinical specialties and providing cost-effective, efficient nursing for a larger workload. In 1968 the diploma program finally closed, and the latter half of the 20th century saw the addition of a master's and doctorate program to the nursing school's offerings.

The pin is the only item in the nursing students' attire that has remained mostly unchanged in design over the last 100 years, and that change has been small: substituting the word "nursing" instead of "hospital" in the pin's logo. The caps, on the other hand, have gone, disappearing in the more casual '70s. Scrubs, white coats and logoed polo shirts have replaced the starched, hard-to-maintain uniforms, and nursing has become a specialty occupation, branching ever deeper into today's complex world of medicine.

Even in this more career-centered world, there remains an alarming shortage of nurses, particularly when one considers the looming threat of an aging population.

Undergraduate students practice clinical skills in the Laboratory for Clinical Learning.

"Lord, there's an easier way to make a living than being a nurse," Brodie admitted. "Yet, I am always amazed by the sense of altruism and wanting to care for people I see in my first-year students."

This altruism must serve them well, for it is often the nurse who is the patient's first line of defense in the tricky minefield of battling illness. Nurses educate patients in how to prevent illness and how to manage illness successfully on a day-to-day basis. They deal in practicalities and serve as a buffer between the patient and the sometimes bewildering medical realm of the physician.

Brodie teaches her first-year students a class called "Introduction to the World of Nursing." In this course, she shares her extensive knowledge of nursing history and, consequently, of Charlottesville's history. The course evolved from a desire to help new nurses understand how far their career of choice has come during the past century.

"You don't just teach them knowledge, you teach them to become something," she said.

Nursing students organized "Nursing Students Without Borders" a little over a year ago and have traveled to San Sebastian, El Salvador three times. This week a group returned from the country after staying three extra days to help with relief efforts following a Jan. 13 earthquake.

Freelance writer Valarie Massie is also a managing editor with journal services at ScholarOne in Charlottesville.


"100 Years: A Legacy of Care"

On Jan. 16, the School of Nursing kicked off a yearlong celebration of its centennial honoring the many thousands of nurses who have learned or honed their skills at the University during the past century. Among their planned activities:

€ A "Time Trunk" filled with memorabilia and missives from todayıs youngest students, as well as from alumnae from as far back as the 1920s, will rest in McLeod Hall until 2051.

€ A doctoral research forum in the spring will focus on current research findings.

€ The Zula Mae Baber Bice Memorial Lecture, an annual fall event, will have special emphasis for this centennial year.

€ A Centennial Gala Weekend is planned for April 20-22, as are several other alumni gatherings throughout the year.

For information, call 924-0138 or see http://www.nursing.virginia.edu/centennial/Homepage.htm

 

 


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