History of the School of Nursing 1914 - 1966

St. Mary's Hospital, Tucson

Silver Jubilee and Then

In the fall of 1939 the Silver Jubilee of the School of Nursing was commemorated. Sister Evangelista came from Lewiston, Idaho. Graduates of the various classes attended the Open House at the school. Miss Clara Liebeck, a graduate of 1938 and recently engaged as full time Nursing Arts instructor, served as one of the hostesses.

At that time the capacity of the hospital increased to 235 by the opening of the south wing, or Annex as it was called. Its pediatric department was an excellent clinical laboratory for the students were adequate facilities and increased census made it possible for them to apply in a practical manner the art of pediatric nursing, the theory of which they received in the classroom. The expansion of the hospital necessitated the increase of R.N's. to eight or ten as staff nurses.

Sister Marguerite introduced a new job category in 1940 by hiring Robert Elwell as "Oxygen Technician." His chief responsibility was to care for oxygen equipment and maintain adequate supplies for the oxygen tents and other treatments requiring oxygen. He was also trained to perform orderly duties and was the first man hired expressly for direct patient care. Unlike other men who had performed some of these tasks at St. Mary's, Elwell was neither an office clerk nor a janitor.

With funds earned by candy sales sponsored by the students and gifts from the doctors, a full size tennis court was constructed directly east of the hospital's south wing. Lights for night playing were included. The court was initiated in the spring of 1940 with a dance. The prize waltz was the chief attraction.

Sister Paula Marie Sullivan, who held a bachelor degree from Mount St. Mary's College before entering nurses training, became Director of the School of Nursing in the fall of 1940. She initiated a notable change in the students' life by striving to combine class and duty hours in calculating work hours for the students. Sister was not completely successful in affecting the change she wisely considered just and appropriate. However, a start was made in providing more favorable working hours for the students. The first few days that the students did not have to return to duty as soon as class was over in the afternoon, they felt as if they had been given a vacation, when actually they were only free for the next hour. The total enrollment of the school at that time was eighty-five students.

Adjusting to Emergencies

Adjusting to the emergencies of surgery and delivery room night call presented many challenges to the students. They responded remarkably well that night in August 1940 when the Tucson Gas and Electric plant on West Sixth Street at Main was flooded by a torrential rain leaving the city in darkness at the very hour that Dr. Van Archibald Smelker was performing an appendectomy at St. Mary's. The circulating nurse brought in the bulky battery lamp which provided adequate light to complete the operation. But the patient could not be returned to his room on the floor above without the services of an elevator, so a bed was readied for him on the same level as the surgery suite. The nurses quickly tidied the operating room because the night clerk was asked to take the battery lamp to the delivery room on the top floor. Mothers in early labor already were coming to the hospital in fear that the bridges would go out and they would be stranded in the dark away from the hospital.

Without electricity there was no well water being pumped. I was on night duty but did not know how to switch the water gate to city water; there was no maintenance man on duty. (The Sister on that shift handled such details as furnaces, etc.) One of the nurses suggested that we try opening the fire hydrant as a -source of water to conserve our sterile water, the only other supply available. Her idea was a good one; so was the coffee brewed from the hydrant water.

That night Sister Mary Louise Barngesser, Dietary Manager, had planned that we should have waffles for our midnight lunch. I mentioned this to one of the girls after the lights had gone out and the waffle irons were useless. She reminded me that all we had to do was to get out the gridiron. We could cook with gas.

Mrs. Agnes Young reporting on private duty at eleven o'clock brought with her a box of candles. The student nurses were cautious in their use of the candles, and most grateful to their friend. All through the night (12) the students met each challenge efficiently. Their consideration for the sick and their composure won them the confidence of their patients. There was no agitation and only a minimum of confusion. Before noon an emergency line was run from the electric plant at Cotaro to supply the hospitals from St. Mary's to the Veteran's Hospital on South Sixth. The hospital was grateful for this consideration on the part of the Tucson Gas and Electric Company; but it was even more proud of the response and service of its student nurses. .

War Days

December 7, 1941 the United States became an active participant in World War II. I was on night duty and the reports of each day's activities made me aware that the impact of the war on Tucson was immediate. Almost without our being aware of it, a large area southeast of Tucson was cleared and readied for Air Force planes and personnel to operate from there as a base. It was named in memory of two Tucson youths killed early in the action - Lt. Samuel H. Davis and Lt. Oscar Monthan.

St. Mary's Hospital was affected by the war from many angles. Thirty-two doctors of her medical staff left for military service. I remember one night questioning the surgeon why the case he was doing was considered such an emergency that it should have to be done at night. He replied that the appendix could wait till morning, but where could he find anyone to give an anesthetic then? Dr. Woodard was available at that time, but he would not be on the morrow.

In addition to the doctors, staff and private duty nurses enrolled in the various branches of the service. By June of 1943 thirty-five alumnae of St. Mary's School of Nursing had responded. Two students of the Junior Class, Robert Hartley and Clifford Sager were reserve officers and left immediately along with Dr. Emery Royce, an intern at St. Mary's. Hartley completed his training at St. Mary's later; Sager transferred to another school.

From the time of the arrival in Tucson of the first members of the military forces, student nurses took part in many of the social activities arranged for the men. As one alumna says, "I was never a wall-flower at any of the frequent dances we had both at the nurses' home and at the Air Force Base." Many of the homesick boys, when it was not possible for them to get dates with the nurses, were happy to spend an hour or so at the nurses' home chatting with one of the Sisters or an instructor. Sister Paula Marie, especially, had frequent opportunities to engage in interesting telephone conversations with lads who called just to talk to someone. Sister made it a point to answer the house phone when there was no student hostess available just so she could render this service to the boys.

Red Cross Training Programs

Lt. Wilma York of the 9th Service Command of the Army and the Pacific Area of the Red Cross visited Tucson to explain to health service groups the several levels of personnel needed to care for the sick. She explained the programs prepared by the Red Cross to meet these various needs and secured the support of the professional nurses and of St. Mary's Hospital for the implementation of these programs. One of these was a refresher course for graduate nurses who had not recently been active in their profession. It attracted more than 150 registered nurses, some of whom were temporarily in the area. The program under the direction of the School of Nursing, with the assistance of the staff doctors and representatives of the University of Arizona was most successful. The nurses pledged their services for any emergency. The program offered first in 1942 was repeated in various forms in subsequent years.

Because there was an acute shortage of private duty nurses, the hospital approved the nurses' plan for multiple nursing. By this arrangement, one nurse gave special care to more than one patient on a single shift of duty. For a short period the nurses tried to return to the twelve hour shift. This, however, resulted in a decrease in available nurses because they found it necessary to stay off duty between cases to get adequate rest. Private duty nurses pledged themselves to devote two weeks of each six months to general duty to relieve the even more acute shortage of staff nurses in the Tucson hospitals.

The Red Cross Volunteer Nurse Aide Program was inaugurated at St. Mary's. In the first year (1943) fifty ladies received hospital experience. This program continued until 1945. The functions of the Volunteer Aide were specifically outlined in the Red Cross Manual. It was a revolutionary experience to have auxiliary personnel within the hospital. After the war when the volunteer was replaced by the hospital employed nurse aides, the scope of her training and responsibility followed that of the volunteer program. However, until 1952 when Sister Miriam Clare Burkett organized a formal teaching program for this level of employee, on-the-job training was on an individual basis. Student nurses, consequently, shared in the responsibility of assisting the nurse aide in becoming acquainted with her duties.

Some aides discovered a real love for nursing and entered the school of nursing. They were welcomed in the school by one who proved to be a very dear friend, Mrs. Theresa Eickhoff. She was a graduate of Mercy Hospital in Denver, Colorado and joined the faculty of the school in 1945 in the capacity of Health Nurse. For the following eighteen years she endeared herself to the students whom she mothered with an unusual combination of sympathy, understanding and professional skill.

Student Nurse Recruitment

Fortunately the citizens of Tucson early in the war began to look on the nurse as a qualified person difficult to replace. A statement prepared by the American Red Cross and published in the Arizona Daily Star reveals this new value placed on the nurse: "For every nurse sent to military service," the statement reads, "two students must enter training, three women must sign up as Nurse Aides, and five women must take courses in home nursing in order to maintain the health of the nation." With this new image of the professional nurse set before the public, a nation wide recruitment of students for schools of nursing was launched. The Federal Government participated by organizing the Cadet Nursing Corps. By this plan the government paid fees and other expenses of trainees in schools of nursing, supplied books, and duty and dress uniforms. In return the trainees pledged to continue in nursing in civilian or military health programs for the duration of the war.

In June 1943 the Cadet Nursing Corps was established at St. Mary's during the first six months of the program, Sister Mary Beatrice Johnson, Director of the School, enrolled fifty-four students in the Corps. The intense recruitment program continued. In addition to the two classes annually received into the school, January and September, a class was accepted in June the following year. The Cadets enrolled at the University of Arizona for the regular course of Chemistry; the limited facilities of the school could not accommodate the large classes. The Auxiliary of the Pima County Medical Society assisted by providing transportation for the students to and from the University.

The local press was generous in presenting material recommended or prepared by the school. In one article Miss Constance Campioni, Science Instructor at St. Mary's School of Nursing wrote: "We at St. Mary's are looking ahead to the post-war world which is certain to be handicapped by disease, malnutrition and other enemies of health brought on by the conflict. The need will be there. We hope that we can do our small part in providing the trained help which will be necessary."

Student Nurses in the lounge of the School of Nursing, Cadets in foreground. 1945
Student Nurses in the lounge of the School of Nursing, Cadets in foreground. 1945


With this goal, Miss Campioni's students were active in meeting the needs of their immediate neighbors. Health needs did not wait for post-war years. With the expansion of activities at Davis-Monthan Air Base and the introduction of industrial plants, the population of Tucson rose fifty percent in two years. War brides following their husbands to military assignments boosted the birth rate of St. Mary's to an all time high. The increased census throughout the hospital required additional registered nurses in all departments. "By 1946," Miss Carmen Ramirez ('45) relates, "there were two R.N's. on staff duty at night, Mrs. Erlinda Villa Smith ('32) and I. There were many on the day shift too."

The Cadet Corps brought about many changes in the life of the students other than those of a social nature. One of these affected the financial aspects of the students' program. Up to that time the students actually worked their way through school. They paid few fees, and received a small stipend from the hospital. They were expected to pay for broken thermometers and syringes belonging to the hospital and to furnish those which they themselves used. (I still have my two thermometers from student days and one 2cc syringe in its little black box.) Not so the Cadets. Tuition and fees paid by the government made it possible for the hospital to provide more of the teaching and practice tools for the students. Room rates changed too with the nation-wide rising cost of living. No longer was a private room available to a patient at four dollars a day.

Sister Mary Giles Philips, who had been a brilliant teacher capable of making her specialty, Anatomy, the students' favorite course, returned to St. Mary's in 1944. Although retired, she maintained an interest in the students. In 1945 she supervised the building of a ramada and barbeque pit for the outdoor enjoyment of the students. The ramada is now a three car garage.

Other recreations that the students enjoyed were the winter sports at Mount Lemmon, 7000 feet higher and some sixty miles from the hospital; actually 43 miles and 60 minutes from town. The Hitchcock Highway which the Federal prisoners were building while we were students has made this area easily accessible. Occasionally there were snow flurries in the west of town. Regardless of what hour the snow fell, the students took full advantage of the fun it made possible.

The annual Rodeo parade, held in late February, usually included a prize-winning float prepared by the students at St. Mary's. The school glee club was reorganized from time to time; once the students even attempted a newspaper. Several classes produced an annual under the title of Vigil.


Rev. Florian Lutz 0. F. M. Cap. leads the Glee Club. 1953
Rev. Florian Lutz 0. F. M. Cap. leads the Glee Club. 1953


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