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The Nurses, circa 1883
Nursing or the caretaking of the sick and injuried has existed since the dawn of civilization. It has been called the oldest of the arts and the youngest of the professions.
North America was colonized primarily by three European countries; the French to the north, the Spanish to the south and the English inbetween. The French and Spanish were predominately Catholic and brought with them religious orders of which nursing was a part. The English were mostly Protestant and had no religious nursing orders, so nursing was done by hired persons or prison inmates.
The evolution of homes for the sick and eventually hospitals brought the need for nurses. With the exception of religious nursing orders, training was haphazard and unstructured. On the job training was the most common method. Specific training programs were advocated early and initiated in several larger hospitals, but they were mainly service oriented and lacked meaningful educational experiences for the students.
The New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston, staffed by women physicians, included a nursing school in their initial charter. In 1872 the hospital moved to Roxbury, Massachusetts and admitted a class of five students. On October 1, 1873, Melinda Ann Richards (1841-1930), received her certificate and became known as "thefirst trained nurse in the United States".
The awareness of structured educational programs for training nurses evolved into the near simultaneous development of three schools. In 1873 the trio of schools, based initally on the model of the famous English nurse Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), opened.. The Bellevue Training School in New York city on May 1, the Connecticut Training School in New Haven on October 1, and the Boston Training School (later the Massachusetts General Hospital Training School for Nurses) on November 1. From these schools came the birth of nursing as the profession we know today.
I have chosen 1883 as the time period for Anne Crawford to depict nurses in training for the original oil on canvas rendering, It was said that most schools admitted only one black and one Jew to each class.
Mary E.P. Mahoney (1845-1926) was the first black nursing school graduate, receiving her training from the New England Hospitalfor Women and Children on August 1, 1879. The student nurses in this scene are wearing uniforms similar to those of the first Bellevue Training School.