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School of Nursing

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Text contributions from Ian Saxine, MHS Historian. Items courtesy of Mercy Hospital.

The Queen's Hospital Training School for Nurses

Soon after Queen’s Hospital (future Mercy) opened, it responded to a growing demand for nurses as well as hospital beds. Along with the rest of the medical field, nursing underwent rapid transformation and professionalization at the turn of the twentieth century. Before 1900, nursing was primarily devoted to home care.

As a graduate from Eastern Maine General put it, “graduate nurses were capable of going into a home making a room surgically clean; preparing a patient for operation, even for abdominal surgery; administering ether anesthesia by drop method; giving nursing care, post-op, for two or three weeks.” In the 1890s the organizations that became the American Nurses Association and National League for Nursing had formed, and states began to pass laws mandating registration of nurses in the early 20th century. Maine nurses participated in this process, and in 1914 the Maine State Nurses Association was incorporated. In the following year, the Maine legislature passed a law for the state registration of nurses.

In 1920, Queen’s Hospital opened the Queen’s Hospital Training School, with Sister M. Constance McCarron as the first superintendent and instructor of nurses. The program took three years to complete, and a diploma led to an R.N. The founding coincided with a shift of most nursing work from at home care to hospital (a trend that involved the rest of the medical profession.)

Starting Small

Loretta Kilfoil, Portland, 1923
Loretta Kilfoil, Portland, 1923
Northern Light Mercy Hospital

The program began on a small scale. The class of 1924 graduated five women, although the very first graduate from the program—Loretta Kilfoil (Colton) received her diploma in 1923. Kilfoil survived until 1983, just missing her 50th class reunion, although she left a legacy behind her at the school. Margaret Hinds Bell (class of 1942) was inspired by Kilfoil, her “mother’s cousin, and my ideal” to become a nurse and train at Mercy.

The program grew from its modest start. In 1927, the number of students climbed to 15, and the school held its first public graduation ceremony in 1930 at Portland’s Cathedral Guild Hall, where eight graduates received diplomas. Students hailed from across Maine; early graduates included Ruth Attean, a Penobscot from Old Town. In the early years, the training program accepted male students, who included Edmund Richard, who graduated in 1930. (After World War II, Mercy Hospital School of Nursing discontinued the practice, and the program remained all female until the 1960s.) When Ruth Attean graduated in 1935, the school had 36 residents. Just over a decade later, enrollment had climbed to 140 students.