***Editor’s note, the information below comes from the research I did about four years ago when I began developing Angel of Mercy. The information came from the website of the Alumnae Association School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital. The website contained helpful information as well as photographs. I can no longer find the website. If you have the link, I would appreciate it if you would leave it in the comment section or send me a message. Thank you.
Hettie Steward, in Angel of Mercy, is a 1912 graduate of the School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital. By the time of her graduation, it was the largest and considered among the most prestigious nursing schools in Canada. Competition to be accepted into the program was stiff and had been since 1894.
Let’s take a look at what her education experience may have been like.
History of the Nursing Program
In the 19th century, hospitals were considered the place where the poor went to die. Those who could afford it hired nurses who took care of the sick and injured at home. In the days before germ theory and modern sterilization methods, death rates were considerably higher for those who nursed in hospitals as opposed to at home.
By 1900, public hospitals were becoming more common and were beginning to serve the middle class. There were multiple beds per ward, although a patient could pay for a semi-private or single room. There also were separate wards for the insane and those with contagious diseases.
In 1901, the Alumnae Association of the Toronto General Hospital Training School of Nurses was formed. Then, the school had 347 graduates. Alumnae were given a pin with the image of a pomegranate plant. It bore the words UT Prosem, Latin for “that I may be of service”.
As the decade went on, nursing gained great strides in being considered a serious profession. In 1904, the Graduate Nurses Association of Ontario was founded. Four years later, both the Canada National Association of Trained Nurses and the International Council of Nurses were formed.
Prior to 1913, Toronto General Hospital was located at the corner of Gerrard St. and Sumach St..
During World War One, 180 alumnae served in the war. They trained in Niagara-on-the-Lake and nicknamed their hospital Niagara-on-the-Lake General Hospital.
The Student Experience
In 1881, the nursing program was a two-year course. In 1896, it expanded to three years. During the third year, students worked in the hospital.
- Practical nursing
- Surgery and obstetrical nursing
- Communicable diseases
- Eye, ear, throat
The school year ran from October to July, and the students were taught by the medical staff.
Students lived in residences with bedrooms, a dining room and a sitting room. They had strict rules they needed to follow and there were mandatory morning prayers.
The school was run by a superintendent. The best known is Mary Agnes Snively. She retired and was replaced in 1910 with Robina Stewart.
Graduation was held in July with the students receiving diplomas. The average class size was 56, and photos of the graduates were taken.
Were you surprised by the courses nurses studied in the early 20th century? Leave a comment below.
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