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Centennials, Celebrations and Commemorations: New exhibit in the School of Nursing reflects on past milestones

June 20, 2018

Vintage nursing uniforms, portraits, photos and architectural elements are a few of the items that help tell the story of 125 years of nursing education in the VCU School of Nursing’s 2018 Heritage Room exhibit. Located just off the main lobby of Cabaniss Hall, this year’s historical look back at nursing is titled “Centennials, Celebrations and Commemorations.” It’s a visual review of previous milestones -- 1938 (Medical College of Virginia’s centennial), 1968 (School of Nursing’s 75th anniversary), 1993 (their centennial) and 2013 (120th anniversary).

Selecting items from 125 years of archival materials was the task of University Archivist Jodi Koste. “I picked items to move the story along,” she says of her choices from the large collection of nursing school archives and artifacts managed by Special Collections and Archives at Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. Koste heads that department.  “The exhibit is an opportunity to let people see what we have and it broadens understanding about the history of our nursing program.”

Adds the School of Nursing’s Dean Jean Giddens, Ph.D., RN, FAAN,  "The School of Nursing has achieved many firsts and other important milestones during our 125 years of operation. Our Heritage Room's latest exhibit provides a meaningful window into our past and reminds us how far we have come."

Displayed with a timeline that illustrates the history of nursing at MCV are replicas of student uniforms worn in the first quarter of the 20th century and made in 1968 at the time of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the school. Crisp white aprons and gingham and striped blouses represent past nursing programs that have been folded into the MCV nursing school over the years -- Old Virginia Hospital (1893-1913), Old Dominion Hospital (1895-1903), Virginia City Hospital (1914-1922), Memorial Hospital 1903-1924) and St. Philip School of Nursing (1920-1926).

“Most nursing schools started as training programs connected to hospitals where the students would take care of patients,” Koste explains. “Students lived in school provided housing, took classes and worked at the hospital.” Classes, labs and dormitories were all in one building adjacent to the hospital.

To give visitors a glimpse into what life was like, the School of Nursing has recreated the front parlor where students would greet guests in their 1928 building on Broad Street. The original mantelpiece, saved when the building was demolished in 2006, and furnishings similar to sofas and chairs of the time portray the formality of social visits. A portrait of nursing program founder Sadie Heath Cabaniss hangs above the carved mantel, and nearby hangs a watercolor by Virginia artist P. Buckley Moss, mother of alumna Mary Moss Donnelly. Prints of the painting have been used to help fundraise for a faculty endowment during the school’s centennial in 1993. Also on display are bronzed nursing school caps, photos of classes, pins, nurse dolls, a silver tea service and a questionnaire issued to nursing school alumnae in 1938 to gather information about student life.

All of the documents and artifacts help visitors understand the evolution of nursing at VCU including the separate and segregated St. Philip School of Nursing for African American women, which closed in 1962 after 42 years. Programs from St. Philip homecoming events organized by alumnae and group photos of graduates reference their legacy of loyalty and tight knit community. --By Elizabeth Cogar

Centennials, Celebrations and Commemorations is open for visitors to enjoy Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through 2018. Cabaniss Hall is located on the MCV Campus at 1100 E. Leigh St.

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