Student Nurse's Uniform (1957)
The student nurse uniform shown above was worn by Frankie Cameron Hall, who entered the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in 1957. Her class was the last to be accepted at that school. When it closed, they transferred to the Mississippi Baptist Hospital in Jackson, graduating from there in 1960. Some former nursing students have remarked that most of them had an ink stain or two on their uniform pocket.
Nursing has always been crucial to the sickness and health of the community, yet the development of nursing as a profession is much more recent than one might think. In 19th century Mississippi, nursing functions such as care of the sick, sitting with the dying, and childbirth assistance were usually handled by relatives or slaves. In 1880, the Mississippi Manuscript Census identified a 168 people in 25 Mississippi counties as "nurses"; 68% of these were children being paid to care for younger children. The first nurses' training school in Mississippi wasn't established until 1898.
The early 20th century was a time of considerable growth in community awareness of nutrition, hygiene, and practices to prevent illness. As the number of hospitals grew, trained nurses were sometimes brought in from out of state to take charge of patient care. The resulting introduction of new ideas helped to develop nursing as a more respected profession. At a time when women had limited opportunity to pursue education or employment, nurse training programs began to be seen as a viable option for those looking to better their circumstances.
During this time period, the nursing profession in Mississippi also began to organize and become regulated. The nursing alumnae associations of Hattiesburg and Natchez met in 1911 at the Natchez Charity Hospital and formed the Mississippi State Association of Graduate Nurses (MSAGN), which would later become the Mississippi Nurses Association. The MSAGN soon successfully opposed a bill in the state legislature that would have outlawed the care of black hospital patients by white nurses and proposed a bill that became the state's first nurse licensing act. In 1933, state law began to require annual renewal of the nursing license and gave the Mississippi State Board of Examiners for Nurses more power to regulate nursing standards and educational programs.
The advent of World War II highlighted some of the problems with nursing education in Mississippi. As had been the case during World War I, most of the nursing programs in the state were small and did not comply with national standards. Therefore, it was difficult for Mississippi nurses to meet eligibility requirements for military or Red Cross duty. Only five nurse training programs in the state (in Vicksburg, Jackson, and Greenville) were able to provide nurses for this type of employment.
By the middle of the 20th century, there were serious shortages of both nursing students and nursing instructors in Mississippi, as well as a relatively small number of African-American nurses compared to the high population of African-Americans in the state. A study of nursing education recommended the training of nurses in existing colleges and universities rather than in training schools that might be opened by new hospitals. As a result, legislation was passed that authorized and provided funding for the University of Mississippi School of Nursing and scholarships for nursing students. The program took 4 ½ years to complete, with two years at the university and the rest of the time at a hospital. All of these developments led to an improved public perception of the nursing profession. Since that time, the improvements in standards of care and training and the establishment of hospital emergency rooms, post anesthesia recovery rooms, and acute care units have led nurses to specialize in various areas of care.
The nursing uniform will be on exhibit on the 3rd floor of McCain Library & Archives until September 14. Please feel free to come by and see this piece of Mississippi nursing history. If you have any questions about this item, please contact Special Collections at 601.266.4345 or Ask-a-Librarian. To see more Items of the Month, click here.
For more information about nursing in Mississippi:
Sabin, Linda E. Struggles and Triumphs: The Story of Mississippi Nurses, 1800-1950. Jackson, MS: MHA Health, Research, and Educational Foundation, 1998. (McCain Library or Gulf Coast Library RT5.M7 S33 1998)
Keyes, Reita S. History of Nursing Education in Mississippi. Oxford, MS: University of Mississippi, 1984. (McCain Library RT80.M7 K48x 1984a)
Text for this "Item of the Month" prepared by Diane DeCesare Ross.