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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 15, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 34
Opening the Book on Hopkins Nursing

In this ca. 1923 photo from the book, nursing students take care of pediatric outpatients in the Harriet Lane Homes.
Photo Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives

'Our Shared Legacy' chronicles the path from hospital to JHU division

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

For a period in the 1970s, it might have seemed to those involved with Johns Hopkins nursing that things couldn't get any worse — so they'd have to get better. And they did.

For nearly all concerned, "better" meant for nursing, which had begun as a hospital diploma program, to become a fully autonomous, degree-granting division of the university, a stature for which many had already fought for decades. Before that could happen, however, nursing education at Johns Hopkins took several dispiriting twists and turns.

This struggle lies at the heart of a new book by the Johns Hopkins University Press titled Our Shared Legacy: Nursing Education at Johns Hopkins, 1889-2006. The richly illustrated book, published in association with the Johns Hopkins Nurses' Alumni Association, recounts the history of nursing here, from its roots as a hospital training program to the present day. Along the way, the reader meets nursing giants and lesser-known heroes who guided nursing in good times and bad and revolutionized the profession.

The 320-page large-format book also celebrates the 20th anniversary of the School of Nursing's first graduating class — an occasion that some thought would never come.

Mame Warren, editor of Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for the World, 1876-2001, edited and co-authored the book, along with Linda Emerson Sabin and Mary Frances Keen. Sabin is the editor of the Bulletin, a publication of the American Association for the History of Nursing and author of Struggles and Triumphs: The Story of the Mississippi Nurses, 1800-1950. Keen, a former president of the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association, is currently director of the undergraduate program at Villanova's College of Nursing.

Together, the three women give voice to generations of Johns Hopkins nurses and weave an exhaustively researched narrative.

The nursing school was established in 1889 from the $7 million bequest of Johns Hopkins, who wanted to create a school that would supply the community with trained and experienced nurses. It opened as The Johns Hopkins Training School For Nurses in October of that year, five months after the opening of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Training School, originally led by Isabel Hampton, would later become the School of Nursing, which turned out generations of exceptional nurses who cared for those both here and abroad, including the soldiers of two World Wars.

Early Johns Hopkins nurses, grossly underpaid and undervalued by some, not only cared for the sick but were trained to cook and clean. The nurses' second-class-citizen plight was somewhat epitomized in their mandatory brown oxford shoes they called "duty booties."

Warren, director of Hopkins History Enterprises at the Sheridan Libraries, said that the book details the nurses' struggle to gain acceptance and respect within hospital halls and the university.

"It really is a compelling story. For years, nurses were perceived simply as doctor's helpers and given very menial tasks," Warren said. "And for decades, nurses here fought to become a part of the university."

In the 1960s and 1970s, without the university's backing to support the full, degree-granting program that the profession demanded, the nursing field began to pass Johns Hopkins by. In 1973, due in large part to its inability to maintain its standards and attract the best candidates, The Johns Hopkins Hospital closed its School of Nursing.

The candlelight ceremony, begun in 1941 and shown here in 1952, marked the end of the preclinical period and was the first time the students wore their new uniforms.
Photo Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives

"The reputation of Johns Hopkins kept the hospital's School of Nursing afloat a lot longer than most people would have thought possible," Warren said. "Finally, it just couldn't maintain its standards."

The School of Nursing was replaced by the short-lived School of Health Services and its Nursing Education Program, which welcomed its first class in 1975.

Four years later, however, the school closed, and nursing at Johns Hopkins entered a period of limbo. In the intervening years before the modern-day School of Nursing was opened, the Evening College, now known as SPSBE, operated a Division of Nursing.

Eventually, a groundswell of support for a university division of nursing began to grow, fueled by the national nursing shortage and the hospital's need to attract the best caregivers and leaders. Carol Gray, who had been serving as the director of the Evening College's Division of Nursing, was selected to be the new School of Nursing's first dean.

The university's School of Nursing officially opened in 1984, accepting 33 students into its first class. The school was originally housed in the hospital's Phipps Building. In 1998, the School of Nursing opened the doors on its current and first permanent home, the Anne M. Pinkard Building, located at the corner of Wolfe and McElderry streets, across from the main entrance of the hospital.

The creation of Our Shared Legacy was the longtime ambition of the Johns Hopkins Nurses' Alumni Association. The association originally had plans to produce a book in 1984 to honor the establishment of the university division, but efforts never congealed, and the concept was shelved until four years ago, when work on this book began.

Sue Appling, a former president of the JH Nursing Alumni Association who served as chair of the nursing book committee, said that the book's readers will discover a rich history of leadership within Hopkins nursing and decades worth of traditions.

"Anyone who picks this book up will hear the voices that shaped nursing education at Johns Hopkins over the years," said Appling, a 1973 graduate of the hospital's School of Nursing and a longtime faculty member at the university's SoN. "Clearly, this book will appeal to all alumni and nursing historians but also to anyone who wants to gain a broader understanding of nursing history in general."

In conjunction with the book's release, the Enoch Pratt Free Library's main branch, located at 400 Cathedral St., will house an exhibit titled Our Shared Legacy, which will display photographs, yearbooks, uniforms and other memorabilia that document the history of nursing education at Johns Hopkins from 1889 to the present day. The exhibit is on display now and will remain until September.

A book launch celebration, featuring the authors, will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. [Note: This date has been changed from that appearing in the printed version of The Gazette.]

Our Shared Legacy lists for $50. To order it through the Johns Hopkins University Press, call 800-537-5487 or go to


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