Take a look at the past

By Laurie Glass,RN, PhD, FAAN
NursingMatters, May 2016

Nursing history is important because it provides a glimpse of where nurses have been, supplies ideas about dealing with today’s issues and can help look at the future. The profession has many “firsts” in its history – nurses created the field of social work, had the first professional code of ethics and broke barriers to discrimination, to name a few.

In 1971 when plans were being made for a nursing building on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, Dean Inez G. Hinsvark’s design idea included an historical gallery – a nursing museum. When the building opened in 1973 the gallery was furnished with state-of-the-art display cases used to showcase memorabilia of well- known faculty and visitors. Helen Creighton, Elise Fitzpatrick, and Rozella Schlotfeldt all had exhibits. In 1976 a committee was appointed to determine how best to use the gallery, and in 1980 I was appointed director, a role I still hold today.

I became interested in history in the early 1970s when the “women’s movement” was a much-publicized topic. I noticed there were similarities between the history of women and the history of nurses and nursing. When I arrived in Milwaukee there were other individuals interested in history and the college had the Historical Gallery. Eventually I pursued my PhD in Nursing History and Nursing Research. My specialty is the history of nursing leaders, organizations and professional issues. I have been active in the American Association for the History of Nursing and serve on the advisory board of the Midwest Nursing History Research Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I had the privilege of learning from, and working with, Signe S. Cooper.

The purpose of the gallery is to serve as a learning resource and to provide a viewing experience of artifacts, mementoes and photographs which are not otherwise available. The Historical Gallery is part of the Center for Nursing History, which has a mission to increase awareness of nursing’s historical past through consultation, presentations and publications. The Center for Nursing History is the only nursing-history center in Wisconsin and one of about seven in the nation.

Many items from the gallery’s collection are shown in these photographs; they were taken by Anne Molineu, who is a volunteer research assistant in the center. The center’s collection includes uniforms from many schools, more than 20 different capes, World War I and World War II uniforms, 90 caps, 30-plus bedpans and urinals, school pins, nurse tools, record books, photographs, posters and more. In July 2014 the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing donated many items from the Signe Cooper historical collection to the center.