WCH CONNECTMay 2, 2018

Yes, this was nursing: Nursing at WCH in the early 1900s

  • May 2, 2018

May 7, 2018

By Heather Gardiner

In the spirit of this year’s National Nursing Week theme “Yes, This is Nursing”, the Miss Margaret Robins Archives is taking a look back at the early days of nursing at Women’s College Hospital to examine what was nursing.

When Women’s College Hospital (WCH) opened its first inpatient hospital in 1911, it employed one nurse, Clara Dixon. Not only was she in charge of the hospital’s 7-bed inpatient ward, but from 1911-1913, she also held the position of hospital superintendent and performed all administrative tasks. Eventually as WCH increased its inpatient wards to 25 beds, added an operating room and expanded its outpatient services, it increased the number of nurses on its staff.

For those curious about what WCH nurses did during this time, the Archives is fortunate to have acquired a handwritten notebook belonging to nurse, Minnie Robinson. In 1915, Ms. Robinson documented her daily routines and responsibilities in the hospital. She provided detailed instructions on bed making, the art of attending to patients day and night, washing babies, giving sponge baths, tidying patient rooms, sterilizing medical equipment, keeping charts, delivering food trays, maintaining flowers and of course at WCH, assisting in the delivery room. Ms. Robinson also included helpful tips such as a nurse must always remember to “keep the kettle well filled” when assisting during childbirth. Ms. Robinson’s writings make it very clear that nurses early on played an integral role in maintaining exemplary patient care at WCH.

A new chapter in nursing at WCH began in 1915, when its nurses took on a new and exciting role - that of instructor. That year, WCH welcomed its first nursing student and officially established a hospital-based nursing school. While the hospital board controlled the school, it was WCH nurses that managed and operated the program.

According to records from the 1920s, nurses spent approximately one and a half hours a day teaching students in the classroom on subjects such as the principles and practice of nursing. In addition, since the WCH School of Nursing followed an apprenticeship model, nurses provided about nine hours of clinical training daily. The nursing students trained alongside the hospital’s nurses in the patient wards, delivery rooms, operating rooms and even the kitchen. In an early nursing school brochure, WCH advertised that its nursing instructors provided “opportunity for a thorough and varied practical experience in medical, surgical, obstetrical, gynaecological, and pediatric training.” Over the 60-year history of the school of nursing, WCH nursing instructors were responsible for training over 1,250 nursing students.

While the field of nursing has changed greatly since WCH opened its doors, we celebrate the ever-evolving role of nurses during Nursing Week. Their commitment and contributions to WCH’s long successful journey cannot be overstated. Happy Nursing Week to all of our nurses!

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