Nursing School in the 1910s — the School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital

Toronto General Hospital

Nursing School in the 1910s — the School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital

Hettie Steward, my main character in Angel of Mercy, is a 1913 graduate of the School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital.   By the time of her graduation, it was the largest and 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 educational experience may have been like.

History of the Nursing Program

Toronto General Hospital School of Nursing Superintendent Mary Agnes Snively with students, circa 1895
Toronto General Hospital School of Nursing Superintendent Mary Agnes Snively with students, circa 1895

In the 19th century, hospitals were considered where the poor went to die. The middle class and wealthy hired nurses who cared for the sick and injured at home. In the days before germ theory and modern sterilization methods, death rates were considerably higher for those who were nursed in hospitals as opposed to at home.

Public hospitals became more common by 1900 and began serving the middle class. Wards had multiple beds, but a patient could pay for a semi-private or private room. The insane and those with contagious diseases were housed separately.

The Alumnae Association of the Toronto General Hospital Training School of Nurses was formed in 1901. The school then 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 toward 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 established.

Prior to 1913, Toronto General Hospital was located at the corner of Gerrard St. and Sumach St.

During World War I, 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

Toronto General Hospital
Toronto General Hospital

In 1881, the nursing program was a two-year course. This expanded to three years in 1896. During the third year, students worked in the hospital.

Students studied:

  • Practical nursing
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Surgery and obstetrical nursing
  • Communicable diseases
  • Eye, ear and throat
  • Dietetics

The school year ran from October to July with medical staff serving as instructors.  

Students lived in residences with bedrooms, a dining room and a sitting room. They had strict rules to follow, and morning prayers were mandatory.

The school was run by a superintendent. The best known is Mary Agnes Snively. She retired in 1910 and was replaced with Robina Stewart.

Graduation was held in July. Students received their diplomas and had a class photo taken. The average class size was 56.

***Editor’s note:  A special thank you to the Alumnae Association School of Nursing Toronto General Hospital website for being invaluable to my Angel of Mercy research.*** 


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Updated: 21 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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