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Graduate and Professional Schools

Part 2

Women have pursued training in nursing at the University of Virginia for over a century. The original two-year nursing program was established in 1901 to help staff the growing University Hospital. The earliest nurses provided all of the patient care in the twenty-bed facility while living at the hospital and surviving on their monthly stipend of five dollars. Upon completion of their program, most graduates continued their nursing work in private residences. After Virginia introduced the State Nursing Licensure exam in 1903, nursing graduates could become registered nurses and pursue new professional opportunities.

Many U.Va. nurses and nursing graduates served their country during World War I. The University established Base Hospital #41 in St. Denis, France. University physicians and nurses staffed the hospital which treated scores of U.S. soldiers.

After the return to peacetime, the Nursing School flourished, enrolling greater numbers of students. In 1928, the Sadie Heath Cabaniss Memorial School of Nursing Education was established as part of U.Va.'s School of Education. This was the first baccalaureate nursing education program in the South.

U.Va. nursing students served their country again during World War II as members of the Cadet Nurse Corps. The federal government had developed the program in response to an increased need for nurses during the war.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Nursing School experienced significant growth and change. In 1949, the Board of Visitors approved the establishment of a B.S. in Nursing program. This signified the increasing recognition of nursing as not only a practical program but an academic one as well. Eight years later, the School of Nursing became an autonomous and independent school of the University, with its director appointed Dean. More change came in 1968 when the School admitted its first African-American student, Mavis Claytor.

Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, professional opportunities in nursing grew, and the School of Nursing added master's and Ph.D. programs to its academic offerings. The School celebrated its centennial in 2001.


University of Virginia Hospital School of Nursing Diploma issued to Alice Leathers. 17 June 1903.

Courtesy of the Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, University of Virginia School of Nursing


University of Virginia Closing Exercises. 1903.
University of Virginia Special Collections

The University of Virginia nursing program started with a class of three women, Alice Leathers, Emma Wood, and Naomi Besley, who graduated on June 17, 1903.

The Training School for Nurses, established by the Board of Visitors in 1901, consisted of a two-year program of intense study and training. The program was founded in connection with the University Hospital, which needed hospital staff at the beginning of the twentieth century. Upon successful completion of the course, nursing students received certificates of graduation and typically found employment as private duty nurses.

In 1904, the Commonwealth of Virginia established the State Nursing Licensure. Nursing graduates who passed the required exam became registered nurses. At the beginning of the twentieth century, only Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina offered licensing to nurses, as well as physicians.

University of Virginia Hospital pin. 1903.
Courtesy of the Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, University of Virginia School of Nursing

In 1903, the first three nursing students graduated and received the newly designed nursing pin. Unlike other aspects of nurses’ attire, the pin has remained mostly unchanged over the years. In 1956, when the School of Nursing became an independent academic unit of the University, the pin was redesigned to read “University of Virginia Nursing.” Today’s nursing graduates still receive this pin upon completion of their program. The pin shown here belonged to Emma Woods, one of the school’s first three graduates.

Photograph of students at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. 1910.
University of Virginia Special Collections

During World War I, the University of Virginia Base Hospital #41 was formed. The unit, composed of University physicians and nurses, served in France. By the end of the war, they had treated some 3,000 soldiers. Superintendent of Nursing at U.Va., Margaret Cowling, served as the nursing director of the military hospital. Ella Katherine Fife, pictured in this group, graduated in 1912 and worked as a nurse at Base Hospital #41.


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