Ethel Mary Smith, elected Secretary-Treasurer and Inspector of Training Schools of the Virginia State Board of Examiners of Nurses in 1920, established the office as a full-time position and set the standard to be followed by her two successors during the next fifty years. She began a record keeping system for tracking nursing students from enrollment through licensure and renewal. Her annual reports became a much anticipated part of the annual Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia conventions and the tradition she established of reporting on Board of Nursing activities continues to this day. Her legacy to nursing in Virginia are the detailed minutes and statistics she dutifully kept while serving the Board of Nursing that are invaluable to understanding the history of nursing in Virginia.
"So, be it resolved, that as long as the Nursing Profession stands, that she be remembered as a leader-an ideal-by all nurses, for her unfailing loyalty, her endless interest, and her untiring efforts for advancement of the profession." - Memorial Resolution Honoring Miss Smith from District IX of the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia, 1948
Ethel Mary Smith established her position in Virginia through her work at Norfolk Protestant Hospital and at the Norfolk City Union of the King's Daughters. She was the fifth president of the Graduate Nurses Association. In 1917, she was appointed to the Virginia State Board of Examiners of Nurses and continued on that Board until 1937. In 1920 the Board elected Smith as its Secretary-Treasurer and Inspector of Training Schools. In these positions, she became the first full-time administrator on the Board. She established the first office of the Board of Examiners of Nurses in her home in Craigsville, Virginia. During her first year as Inspector of Training Schools, Smith visited every training school in the state and made the first comprehensive report of her findings to the Board as the basis for the accreditation for the schools. She initiated a record system for tracking nurses from enrollment in nursing school to licensure, to renewal of license.
Smith made annual reports to the Graduate Nurses Association each year at the convention. These reports became a much anticipated part of the convention and the presentation of such a report by either a member or the executive officer of the Board has continued. The detail of the minutes she recorded and the statistical reports remain a valuable source of information about the history of nursing in Virginia. Smith defined the position she held with the Board and set the standard for the two Board members who followed her as Secretary-Treasurer through 1970.
A chance visit to Richmond and a stop by the office of her State Senator brought her attention to a bill pending in the General Assembly to change the composition of the Board of Examiners of Nurses from five nurses to three physicians and three nurses. Her response to notify and involve the leadership of both the Board and the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia led to negotiations and changes that resulted in the defeat of the bill.
Following her resignation from the Board in 1937, Smith continued to assist with the licensing examinations and during World War II, she served as chair of the Red Cross Nursing Services in Augusta County, Virginia. She also organized and conducted classes in Red Cross home nursing and classes for Red Cross nurse aides.
Eloise Lanford, in a paper about Smith said, "there is no tangible memorial in Virginia to this remarkable woman but the intangible will be felt far down into future generations of nursing; and the countless number of those who live because of expert nursing care will serve as a monument to her work with the Board." In 2000, the Virginia Nurses Association recognized Smith as one of fifty-one Pioneer Nurses in Virginia.