Nurses Wanted In 1914: Only Young, Single Women In Good Health Need Apply

August 31, 2017

Alice Fitzgerald had nothing against married women. She just had no use for married women in her nursing program. She had no use for women who weren’t young and spry and active.

Her nurses, Fitzgerald said, needed to be focused on training for a career – not raising children, keeping a household afloat or taking care of a man.

So, when Fitzgerald became the first director of the new Indiana University Training School for Nurses in 1914, those were her rules. And those were the rules that stuck.

She admitted only young, single women in good health to the program that included three years of training -- with coursework and on-the-job hours.

Yet, as she shaped IU Health’s training school for nurses, Fitzgerald felt a bit out of her element. When she arrived at Long Hospital, the predecessor to IU Health University Hospital, construction was not complete.

The neighborhood, Fitzgerald later said, left much to be desired. To the west of the hospital was the city dump. The rest of the neighborhood was filled with cornfields, cabbage patches and a few isolated hospitals.

Fitzgerald once said in a newspaper article: “When I arrived in Indiana, the hospital seemed so lonely and small.”

That only fueled Fitzgerald to make IU’s nursing program something much more, something that could compete with other training programs around the state and nation.

First, she equipped it with the best technologies of the era. She also planned the nursing school, created its curriculum, designed the nurses’ uniforms and caps and oversaw the admittance of the first students.

Her original nursing staff was very small, with only one instructor, two head nurses, a night supervisor, an operating room supervisor and seven staff nurses.

Yet, Fitzgerald was credited with “creating a top-notch nursing program among the most desolate surroundings.”

And she did it all in one short year. Fitzgerald left the program in 1915 to travel to Europe, where she served as a nurse for wounded soldiers -- with the British Army and the American Red Cross. She later became the first director of the Nursing Bureau of League of Red Cross Societies at Geneva, Switzerland.

A physician said years later that Fitzgerald left IU “because she could never quite get over the rural surroundings.”

Sources: “Women in Medicine at IUPUI: A Walking Trail” and IUPUI Library Special Collections and Archives

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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