St. Mary's School of Nursing Records, 1894-1972


In May of 1848, at the entreat of Milwaukee's first Bishop, John Martin Henni, Wisconsin's first public hospital, St. John's Infirmary, was established by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of the Order of St. Joseph's at Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 1958, the hospital was moved to its permanent site at the “North Point” overlooking Lake Michigan. Renamed St. Mary's Hospital, it was built on three acres of land with which the city of Milwaukee endowed the Sisters for their ministrations during the epidemics of the previous decade. Coincidentally, the move transferred the “seat of pestilence” away from the centers of population.

Feeling the need for trained nurses, and, possibly, encouraged by the organization of the Milwaukee Medical School (later Marquette University's School of Medicine), the Sisters of Charity founded Wisconsin's first hospital-organized training school for nurses at St. Mary's Hospital in 1894. (In 1888, the Women's Club of Wisconsin organized a Training School for Nurses patterned after the Bellevue School of Nursing in New York. The students received their practice in nursing arts at the Soldier's Home and two other small Milwaukee hospitals.) Nine young women were enrolled for a two-year program in Practical Nursing, Anatomy and Physiology, and Materia Medica, seven completed the course in 1896. In 1901 the course of instruction was expanded to three years, and by 1914 the 213 lessons of 1912 had been increased to 436 hours of study. The period of training was the traditional one of three calendar years until the class of 1966 when it was reduced to three academic years plus one summer. Entrance requirements, curriculum, and the schedule of “services” kept pace with state and nursing association suggestions and requirements. In 1913, St. Mary's School of Nursing was approved by the examiners of the Wisconsin State Board and in 1941, the school was posted on the first list of schools of nursing accredited by the National League of Nursing Education. St. Mary's also appeared on the original list of schools accredited by the National Accrediting Service in 1950, and in 1949 was designated as a Class I school by six national nursing organizations acting in concert.

Affiliations were made by St. Mary's with various colleges and universities in order to add department to the curriculum. From 1924 to 1927, St. Mary's affiliated with Marquette University's School of Nursing. The first two years of theoretical and pre-clinical study were to be completed at Marquette, the final year of nursing practice at St. Mary's Hospital.

Following the dissolution of this alliance, St. Mary's affiliated with De Paul University of Chicago, Illinois from 1928 to 1932. A final attempt to integrate a college affiliation into the diploma program at St. Mary's was made with Mount Mary College of Milwaukee beginning in 1961.

St. Mary's School of Nursing also had affiliations with the Milwaukee Health Department and the Visiting Nurses Association for student experience in Public Health Nursing, and with several hospitals for “services” in Tuberculosis Nursing (Muirdale Sanatorium), Pediatric Nursing (Milwaukee Children's Hospital), Psychiatric Nursing (St. Vincent's Hospital of St. Louis, Missouri), and Rural Nursing (Waupun Memorial Hospital, Waupun, Wisconsin).

Originally incorporated in 1912 as St. Mary's Training School for Nurses, the school became known as St. Mary's School of Nursing in 1932 indicting officially the transition from training to education that had been developing in the field. A second change of emphasis from a service to an education-oriented program was noted in 1959 with the inception of a fee for room-and-board. In later years extra curricular activities filled the void created by the gradual relaxation of duty hours from the seven-to-seven shifts of an earlier period.

By the 1960s the demands on the profession, as well as from professional nurses and nurses' organizations, exemplified by a position paper of the American Nurses Association, suggested that diploma programs for nurses had become anachronistic, that nursing education was more properly to be found in the degree programs of the universities. St. Mary's School of Nursing accepted the realities of the situation and opted to affiliate with the degree nursing program of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a capacity for which it felt eminently qualified--to be one of several Milwaukee hospitals serving as clinical laboratories for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee nurse candidates.

In its seventy-five years of existence St. Mary's School of Nursing graduated one-thousand nine-hundred and thirteen professional nurses, about whom Sister Juliana Kelly, last president of the school, felt it just to say: “[They are] . . . the standard by which others are measured, toward which others strove.” (p. 5, Alumnae Book of St. Mary's School of Nursing, Milwaukee, 1969)