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School of Nursing

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Customs and Rules at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing

Like all schools, Queen’s Hospital Training School developed its own customs. After six months of study, successful completion of a preclinical training period culminated in the awarding of a distinctive training cap, presented at a formal ceremony. School regulations dictated that “When not in uniform, nurses wear their caps to the dining room as well as to the classroom.”

Another institutional tradition involved the Mercy Hospital shield. Carved in stone above the door of the hospital’s main entrance, the shield was also worn on student nurses’ pins. The shield was actually the badge of the Order of Ransom, founded in 1218 in the city of Barcelona. Its members cared for the sick and ransomed prisoners of war. Mother McAuley modeled the Sisters of Mercy coat of arms on the original Order insignia.

Students were housed at the school, and between 1920 and 1952, they were expected to abide by the following rules posted in the residence area, which included:

“Washing clothes in the bathtubs is not allowed. The laundry is for such purposes.”

“Do not monopolize the telephone for any length of time”

“Standing on the steps or on the street nearby, or communicating in any way from the windows is unfavorably looked upon by well-bred persons and is strictly forbidden.”

Students rose at 6 A.M., and attended breakfast no later than 6:40. They were expected “on duty at 7.A.M. after a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.” Lights out was posted at 10 pm, except on Saturdays, when it was at 10:30 pm.

A Comprehensive Nursing Education

As a June 1936 article by Mary Osborne of Portland in the professional journal of the Maine State Nurse’s Association (The Maine R.N.) noted, “book training” was essential to success. “The ‘MODERN NURSE’ is an educated nurse,” Osborne emphasized, “and if we wish to be considered a modern nurse, let us not forget to study.” To that end, nursing diplomas at the school included credits in the humanities from St. Joseph’s College in Standish, which the Sisters of Mercy also operated.

Mrs. Salvatore, Portland, ca. 1980
Mrs. Salvatore, Portland, ca. 1980
Northern Light Mercy Hospital

Medical texts used by some of the early students remind the modern reader how medicine has changed over the years. Mary Elizabeth Connolly (class of ’31) used a textbook published in 1928, Modern Methods in Nursing by Georgiana Sanders. The text included explanations of the latest methods that nurses were expected to employ in 1928, which included the techniques for proper leeching of patients.

Leeches are not the only treatment contained in Connolly’s textbook that might surprise twenty-first century readers. Some of the state of the art drugs prescribed for assorted conditions included strychnine, which in 1928 was classified as “a general tonic” useful for treating constipation, or conversely, castor oil as a purgative, or even “tincture of opium” or “brandy, taken raw (1 to 2 drams.)”

Along with the skills necessary to treat patients, Connolly’s textbook included a chapter on “domestic work” with advice for proper methods of sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing. Such duties were expected of the nursing students (and nurses) until after the Second World War. Mary Elizabeth Lyden (class of ’42) remembered that “We did more than just nursing. We had to keep the rooms clean. We were like the housekeepers, as well. We dusted all the windows. We washed all the floors…We did work hard. It was just normal. I mean, we expected it.”

Connolly and her classmates appear to have received a comprehensive education; her schoolbooks included Studies in Ethics for Nurses, by Charlotte Aikens. The book walked through various ethical situations a nurse might encounter, while also including multiple chapters on “Old-Fashioned Virtues” as well as suggestions for leading a balanced life.

This was all part of standard medical training at the time, which was growing in complexity as new advances continued. A 1930s publication emphasized the rise of “an entirely new idea of a nurse” that was concerned not just with treatment but prevention of illness. Prevention was interwoven with “the science called Bacteriology.” Treatment of various germs and the destruction of tissue required the study of pathology, and recovery required knowledge of physical therapy, not to mention X-Ray and radium treatments.