Oral History Project

In Our Past, Lies Our Future

Historians often record the lives of nurses considered to have made a ‘noteworthy’ contribution to nursing or those who have witnessed or been part of an important event. I believe that it’s important to look at the experiences of all nurses as each, in their own way have contributed to the nursing profession.

The American Nurses Association states on their website “The world of professional nursing practice and health policy is ever evolving to meet the new dynamics of care needs in every setting”. Achieving professional status for nurses has been a long and, at times, rocky process.

Reviewing the history of nursing in America as told in literature and the personal histories of nurses, aids in understanding how nurses have conquered obstacles along the way to achieving full partnership in decision making in healthcare.

While it is not possible to obtain oral histories from some of the early pioneers in nursing, we are fortunate to have their written memoirs, biographies and in some cases journal articles or books that they have written. Many nurses did not leave a written record of their experiences. And in today's fast paced world with technology that allows for instant communication, e-mails and text messaging, read and then deleted, many stories are lost.

Their stories have been shared on this website .

Oral History Project

The original purpose of the project was:

To examine the history of nursing education through the personal perspectives
of students and, where possible, nursing faculty:
The initial goals were:

  • To preserve the real life experiences of nurses by recording their stories, in their own words. and

  • To review stories and identify themes, educational philosophy;and compare past, current and future

As I explored the history of nursing and nursing education I found that the history of education had bloomed into the history of nursing in America. While education of nursing professionals is important, the focus of the project has been enlarged as many of the nurses interviewed continued with a discussion about their careers after graduation. Clearly the wide variety of careers that are possible after graduation is important. One nurse interviewed commented: “I don’t know of any other career on the planet that you get so many different rewarding experiences from one particular degree.” Many of those nurses interviewed have been pioneers as they began to specialize in the many opportunities nursing provides. Thus the interview seeks to explore their career with each participant.
Many of the nurses interviewed wanted to talk about their careers after graduation and the wide variety of careers that are possible after graduation. One nurse interviewed commented: “I don’t know of any other career on the planet that you get so many different rewarding experiences from one particular degree.” Many of those nurses interviewed have been ‘pioneers as they began to specialize in the many opportunities nursing provides. Thus the interview seeks to explore their career with each participant.
With this realization, the project goals have been revised.

Current (2019) Project Goals

To review stories and identify the factors that have encouraged or discouraged students to go on to further their education.

To identify the role of education in achieving professional status

To identify career paths made possible through nursing and nursing education.

 Diploma Programs
Hospital Based

After the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale received funding to start a school of nursing St. Thomas Hospital. In 1873 three hospitals established the first ‘Nightingale’ nurse training schools in America. These were ·New York Training School at Bellevue Hospital,, the Connecticut Training School at New Haven State Hospital and the Training School at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In the Nightingale English Model , the administration of the school is separate from hospital administration.In the United States the administration of the nursing school was under hospital administration and was similar to an apprenticeship program -pupil nurses staffed the hospital.·The length of the program length initially was 2 years and later increased to 3 years. Nursing, seen as women's work, emphasized service not education - the philosophy of hospitals was: Service first, Education second.

Oral Histories

Diploma Graduates

Memories: an era of caring-1892 to 1999
A Tribute to Springfield hospital/Baystate Medical Center, School of Nursingi
When Baystate Medical Center School of Nursing closed in 1999, the memory book committee with the assistance of Baystate Health Systems created a book entitled "an era of caring". The book contains memories from the classes of the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. In the following, you'll find the memories of the classes from the classes of these eras. Click here to read these memories

Hartford Hospital Graduate 1935 - her career led her to became a Director, Springfield Hospital - Baystate School of Nursing. She is the Author: One Hundred Years of Nursing at Baystate Medical Center - A Rich Heritage.

Photos Pictures of Springfield Hospital +Baystate Hospital School of Nursing + Hospital scenes from the 80’s.

Diploma Graduate 1961 Click Here

Diploma Graduate 1960 Click Here

Springfield Hospital/Baystate Medical Center - School of Nursing -1892-1999
School motto: to learn, to serve, to live

Baystate Medical Center was formed April 1.1976 as a result of the merger of several hospitals in Springfield, MA. (See School of Nursing Timeline on Web Site). The earliest hospital was Springfield Hospital founded in 1869 and incorporated in 1883. From its earliest days, Springfield Hospital employed nurses to care for the sick; some of these nurses were graduates of early training schools while others had no formal education. As the Springfield Hospital grew and attracted more patients, In 1891 Miss Lucinda Howard one of the Trustees, convinced the Board that the hospital should have a training school.1 Springfield Hospital School of Nursing opened with one probationer on May 18, 1892. Read about the Baystate Hospital Nursing School History - Click Here

Northampton, MA - Cooley Dickinson Hospital 1908

Northampton, MA - Cooley Dickinson Hospital 1908

Cooley Dickinson Hospital Diploma Graduate 1949

I went to Cooley Dickinson Hospital Nursing School because it was low cost. I didn't want to leave home. I just was out of high school. I really didn't want to go to nursing school - it was another three years of school. But I wanted to be a nurse and I needed to do it and that was the fastest way to do it. My father wanted me to go to the nuns up in New York, and that was a five year school in those days, and I could not... could not see myself doing that because I had gone to parochial school; grammar school with the nuns and I didn't want t do that again. And besides, Cooley Dick was close by. Not that I could come home when I wanted to but at least it was close. That was in 1946. The fall of '46 I got out of High School in June and went into nursing in September of '46. I graduated in '49. Read More

1958 Graduate Mercy Hospital School of Nursing (Springfield Ma.)

Old Mercy Hospital Springfield Ma.jpg

Interview: May 24, 2010
(For the record, I'd like you to say where you went to school, why you went into nursing and we'll go on from there.)
I went to the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing which no longer exists. It was in Springfield, Massachusetts. I graduated in 1958. I got out of high school in 1955, went to school in September; it was a three year program and in September of 1958 I graduated.
I really had... did not know much about nursing. There was no one in my family who was a nurse. It was looked down upon as something that nobody would do. And I had a friend and her name was Alice and we went to high school together; we went to Cathedral. And we were in junior year and so one day she said to me would you come with me after school? She said I'm going over to Wesson Memorial Hospital which was on High St/ she said I'm going to sign up to be a green girl. So I said oh yea, I'll go with you. So I went with her and she was interviewed by Pauline Neals, and she was the director of volunteers and I can still remember her: she was the smallest little women I ever saw. And she was running the volunteer dept. and she had white hair and she would go on with what the green girls do and they had the uniform and everything and I thought it was terrific so I signed up also. And when I went home and I said gee, guess what I did today at the dinner table, I thought my family would flip out. My mother and father (laughs)... And so my father said, "well go do it because you won't do it for more than two weeks". Well, I did it for the whole school year then Alice and I both had jobs for the summer and we went back to Cathedral for our senior and we both decided to go into nursing. And that was it…..

We went to class for the first six months and after that we went on the units. And let me tell you today nobody would do it. It was almost like slavery. But when I look back on it, it was just absolutely wonderful. I had some wonderful experiences. I still do the legal aspects of nursing today and I still tell the students how wonderful my nursing education was. It was very hard I would never wish it on anybody with the nuns. I mean they were very... oh m God.

Read the Complete Interview

Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, Springfield, MA 1946 Graduate
After graduation, she became a Nun - her remarkable career lead to being appointed the admisinstrator of Mercy Hospital. Read complete interview 1946 Diploma Graduate

Nursing Education - Associate Degree Programs

The associate degree nursing program: ". . . presents a new type of nursing program in a new setting; a program carefully designed to fit within the pattern of community/junior college education, to meet the needs of interested candidates who might otherwise be lost to nursing, and to prepare nurses for a specific range of nursing functions-those embodied in direct patient care.” (Lewis, 1964)

Why a Two-Year Collegiate Nursing Program ?

The urgent needs that came to the forefront of the public consciousness and the immediate occasion for the development of the associate degree nursing program were primarily due to a shortage of nurses after World War II as well as the reform movement in nursing intent on moving nursing education into higher education. (Haase’ 1990)

Dr. Montag sought to alleviate a critical shortage of nurses by decreasing the length of the education process to two years and to provide a sound educational base for nursing instruction by placing the program in community/junior colleges. In 1958, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation funded the implementation of the project at seven pilot sites in four states (Haase, 1990) Read further about the Early History of Associate Degree Nursing

Haase, P. T., (1990), The origins and Rise of Associate Degree Nursing Education, Duke University Press Published in Cooperation with the National League for Nursing.

Lewis, E, (1964), The Associate degree program, American Journal of Nursing, 64, 5. 78-81

Mildred Montag, Ed.D

Mildred Montag, Ed.D

 Associate degree education for nursing began as part of an experimental project at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York in the 1950s. In her doctoral dissertation, Dr. Montag proposed educating a technical nurse for two years to assist the professional nurse, whom she envisioned as having a baccalaureate degree.

Springfield Technical Community College

History Springfield Technical Community College Associate Degree
Nursing Program - As Told by Students and Faculty

As the focus of nursing education moved from a service focus to a focus on education, and students no longer provided the majority of hospital staffing, hospital schools of nursing began feeling the financial pinch. In Western Massachusetts hospital schools of nursing began closing. The only area college that offered a nursing program was the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Associate degree nursing programs, having been successfully introduced in the 1950's and 60's,were seen as an answer to the need for an educated nursing work force. In the 1970's, two Western Massachusetts Community Colleges, Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield and Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, developed Associate Degree nursing programs.

The following history of the nursing program at STCC is told through the oral histories of the first Dean, Dr. Mary E. O'Leary1, who developed the nursing program and graduates of the program. These are their stories. According to Dr. O'Leary**:
"While I was at the Providence Hospital School of Nursing, the Sisters of Providence saw the wave of the future and we; St. Lukes in Pittsfield; St. Vincent's in Worcester; Mercy in Springfield, and Providence in Holyoke administrators and myself met. The issue was how do you develop an associate degree program without an assisting college? So we met with [the]President of The Elms College to query if the sisters worked out a collaborative, what kind of a relationship could they develop with the Elms College?. Would it be the Elms or the Sisters of Providence? Needless to say there was never any real follow up to it.'
"In this area, Springfield had Springfield Trade High School which is now Putnam Vocational School, it used to be Springfield Trade, then it became Springfield Technical Institute which incorporated the post high school thirteenth and fourteenth years in select programs. They had cosmetology and the practical nursing program. At the time of the impetus to have a community college, Springfield Technical Institute made a transition and became Springfield Technical Community College. And Holyoke was one of the two first community colleges in the Commonwealth." Read more about History Springfield Technical Community College Associate Degree Nursing Program - As Told by Students and Faculty

**Permission granted (9/9/2101)by Dr. O'Leary to use name, titles and positions held.(9/9/2010):

1974 ADN Graduate STCC

Well it was way back on Christmas Eve in 1971 that I was stationed at the Mercy Hospital and at that time I was assigned to the Business Office and the Accounting Office also. Well on Christmas Eve, anybody that is in the hospital really has to be there because in those days they would clean out the hospital as much as possible so people could go home with their families. Well we had a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and as a person I cannot go to bed say at 9:00 and get at 11:30 for Mass, I have to stay right through. So a few of us that were able, we would go around the floors and visit the sick people that were in the hospital at that time. I found it almost like a second vocation to me to do that, going into some rooms where people would be so happy to see a visitor and I said to myself, what am I doing downstairs behind closed doors, counting other people’s money and sending out bills when I should be up here on a one-to-one with a person? I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind. It just nagged and nagged at me so I finally got up my courage to ask my superiors if there is any chance I could change my ministry and they were very much in favor of me going into nursing. Well my hope was…I was 42 years old and I did not feel I could handle an RN program, especially for an Associate Degree at STCC. I thought maybe I could go to be an LPN, as long as I was somewhere in the nursing field. Well they did not go along with my thought. They said well, it is going to be hard for you either way, go for it. Go for your RN and try it and if it doesn’t work out, we will take it from there. So I did, I had a very close friend of mine, Sister Elizabeth R. and then Sister Mary O. and, of course, Mary O’Leary a friend of mine from Holyoke …they all were teaching there at STCC. Not that it made any difference because I was just like one of the others, no favoritism on their part; however, I was able to enter the class in 1972 I believe it was and it was very, very wonderful. We had graduation and went for State Boards…I hope I’m not rambling.

No you’re not, you are doing fine. It’s exactly what we need. Read the Complete Interview

STCC Graduate 1987

For the record, , tell me why you decided to become a nurse, and why you chose to go to STCC and we’ll go from there.

ST: I chose to become a nurse because I really wanted to help people. I was a juvenile diabetic and I was taught by someone to take care of myself who I thought was wonderful. She did a wonderful job and I just wanted to return the favor; to see if other children were in the same position and I needed to help them in the same way. So she was very inspirational.

I graduated from STCC in 1987 and it was the only school that would accept me as a student in the nursing program. All the other nursing programs were… left to want to take male students in their programs. I tried U Mass, Northeastern and Boston. Boston College – and just for ha ha’s because they were very close to where I lived – Elms College too and they all said no. So I wanted to transfer from STCC because I had an ADN program, I was in the ADN program in general studies and I wanted to take that general studies and transfer into a nursing program. And I’m not sure that that’s why they said no but one program told me they don’t accept male nurses. For the complete interview, click here.

Holyoke Community College

I was born in New Jersey, I went to school at Holyoke Community College, Class of 1997. My formal education, I graduated from Westfield high School in 1968. I graduated from Holyoke Community College in 1970 with an associate's degree in science. Graduated Westfield State in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics with a minor in education. Graduated then from Holyoke Community College with an associate degree in nursing in 1977 where I guess my nursing career began. Read more - ADN Graduate 1977 Holyoke Community College

Additional ADN Graduate Interviews - Click Here

Baccalaureate Nursing Degree

Nursing College Graduates.jpg

History of Baccalaureate Nursing Education and Entry Into Practice

"As we cast a backward glance, we cannot fail to be impressed with the inevitability,. . . of the relationship of the school of nursing with the university becoming an established universal fact." __Goodrich, 1935

From the beginning of formal, organized nurse training, having 'trained' nurses helped make possible physicians' advances in medicine and surgery. And, as medicine and surgery advanced, the nurses' role expanded. Their expanding role required that theory -- the „why as well as the how' -- needed to be included in nursing education.The first schools of nursing in the United States were one year hospital based programs using the apprenticeship model; the focus was on practice rather than theory. Later, schools developed two year programs followed by three-year programs. Graduates initially received a certificate of completion and in later years, a diploma. As each hospital formed its own school of nursing the new superintendent of nurses brought with her the curriculum and educational practices of the school in which she had trained. The result was a lack of standardization of educational practices and curriculum. Indeed there were no educational standards for admission; a prospective nurse might have anywhere from one year of high school to a high school diploma; few had any college education.

Read more on the History of Baccalaureate Nursing Education and Entry Into Practice

Oral Histories

Elms College Faculty

Westfield State College - Oral history of the First Dean of the Nursing Program

Towards the Future…

Westfield State College is now Westfield State University. On June 3, 2019 Westfield State University and STCC announced partnership in biotechnology program.

"A newly signed agreement creates an affordable pathway for students who earn an associate degree in biotechnology from Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) to transfer credits and pursue a bachelor’s degree from Westfield State University.

In a ceremony on June 3, STCC President John B. Cook, Ph.D., and Westfield State President Ramon S. Torrecilha, Ph.D., signed an articulation agreement that formally connects the programs. Students will receive credit from Westfield State for program-related courses completed at STCC. They can apply those credits toward the requirements for a bachelor of science degree in biology with a concentration in biotechnology at Westfield State.

"Biotechnology is a key example of our changing economy and the need to interconnect science with technology,” Dr. Cook said. “We are very pleased to collaborate with Westfield State as it launches its program, knowing the biotech industry is growing and talented workers are in demand." Copied From the Westfield State University website.June 20, 2019

1960 Boston College School of Nursing — Career includes perspective on the early history of ADN programs and as faculty University of Massachusetts, Amherst.