Bellevue Schools of Nursing

Descriptive Summary

Bellevue Schools of Nursing
Finding aid prepared by Collen Bradley-Sanders
This collection contains documents and images from the Bellevue Schools of Nursing, the first in the United States to be run according to the nursing principles championed by Florence Nightingale. The schools (which included the Training School for Nurses, the Bellevue School for Midwives, and the Mills Training School for Men) operated from 1873-1969. Among the holdings are photographs, yearbooks, a few publications, annual announcements, a school history and some reports on the operation of the schools.
Physical Description:
3.25 Linear feet
Record Group:
Offsite Storage

Historical/Biographical Note

Text courtesy of the Foundation of New York State Nurses. For more information, see the Foundation's collection of Bellevue Schools of Nursing records.

The Training School for Nurses attached to Bellevue Hospital opened in 1873, the first school in United Stated to be run according to Florence Nightingale's nursing principles. These principles, among other things, called for strict rules of hygiene and cleanliness, as well as having a staff of trained nurses supervised by a woman who would be in charge of nursing services in the hospital. Plans for the school began a year earlier, when a group of women, led by Louisa Lee Schuyler, concluded in a report to the State Board of Charities that the condition of the public hospitals of the City and County of New York was unacceptable. They proposed that a supply of trained nurses would greatly improve care in these hospitals, and formed a committee to look into the creation of a training school for nurses. The Chair of this committee was Mr. William Osborn and Dr. W. Gill Wylie was one of the school's strong supporters on the medical staff at Bellevue Hospital. Dr. Wylie undertook a trip to Europe to visit nursing schools in England, France and Germany and came home with many ideas and a letter of advice and support from Florence Nightingale.

After the committee convinced the Commissioners of the Board of Charities to allow them to administer nursing in five wards at Bellevue Hospital - on a trial basis only - the first six students were admitted to the Training School. The committee raised funds to cover the difference between what the Hospital's cost would have been otherwise and the cost of training. Sister Helen Bowdin of the All Saints Sisterhood in London was hired as Superintendent. The first students in the 1870s lived at a residence at 314 East 26th Street. The success of this five-ward trial convinced the Commissioners that the school was a necessity, and nursing work was extended to all the wards of the hospital.

Early training involved only instruction in basic cleanliness, neatness, and attending to patient comfort, but by the late 1870s doctors from Bellevue Hospital began to give lectures in Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene. The Training School grew rapidly; by 1879 there were 63 enrolled students and more applicants than could be accepted. The first official building for the school, that included both classroom space and student rooms, opened in 1878 at 426 E. 26th Street. The building was purchased by Mrs. William Henry Osborn and leased to the Board of Managers of the Bellevue Training School for Nurses, and it was known initially as the "Nurse's Home."

The Bellevue school pin, designed by Tiffany & Co., was adopted in 1880 and worn by graduates; it portrayed a crane, representing vigilance, surrounded by a wreath of poppies, signifying the role of nurses of allaying pain and bringing rest to the suffering. The unbroken circle of blue, with the word "Bellevue" at the bottom, represented constancy.

There was no established uniform in the early years of the school, but by the 1880s the blue and white striped fabric was adopted as the uniform fabric, with the style left to the discretion of the individual student. Miss Euphemia Van Rensselaer is given credit for the introduction of the blue and white striped uniform. By 1900 the style of the uniform was standardized, and the Bellevue cap had become an established part of the uniform. The 1880s also saw the introduction of a registry of graduate nurses run by the Board of Managers at Bellevue Hospital.

In 1909 the nursing school and the student residence moved to a new building at 440 E. 26th Street. This building continued to be used until 1954. The former school building at 426 E. 26th Street was attached to a new six-story structure and renamed Osborn Hall in honor of the donors, Mr. and Mrs. William Church Osborn. This building was leased to the Alumnae Association, who managed the Alumnae Registry from there, and served as a residence for graduate nurses. Osborn Hall also included a restaurant and an assembly room.

Bellevue Hospital was also the home for other schools in its early years. The Bellevue School for Midwives, the first official school for midwives in the United States, opened in 1911. The School for Midwives remained open until 1936. The Mills Training School for Men opened in 1888, as a school to train male nurses to work in men's wards of hospitals. Mills closed in 1910, and reopened to students in 1920. The Mills and Bellevue Schools of Nursing merged under a single administration in 1929, becoming the "Bellevue Schools of Nursing."

Bellevue Hospital and the nursing school felt the impact of World War I. In June 1916, Superintendent Clara Noyes initiated the enrollment of nurses for Base Hospital No. 1; in October, the work of organization was transferred to Miss Brink. This unit was not called up until early 1918; on Feb. 25th, 1918, 65 graduates embarked on S.S. Olympic under Chief Nurse Beatrice M. Bamber. Back at Bellevue, Superintendent Amy Hilliard led the school through the difficult war years, as many nurses left to serve in the Armed Forces, and the city of New York suffered through an influenza epidemic that took the lives of eleven student nurses. In the immediate aftermath of WWI, enrollment fell and the hospital suffered from a considerable shortage of nursing staff. Miss Catherine DeLong led an intensive recruitment effort that paid off with a record enrollment for the entering class of 1923.

In 1929 the Department of Hospitals at Bellevue was reorganized; as part of this, the Board of Managers was relieved of the financial responsibility of running the Bellevue School of Nursing. In 1936, both the hospital and the school shifted to an eight-hour day rather than the twelve-hour day that had previously been in place. Four years later, in 1940, the school's curriculum was also reorganized, with the introduction of different stages of study, with freshman, junior, and senior years. At this time the school also established an affiliation with the Henry Street Settlement for students interested in public health nursing.

During WWII, Bellevue signed on for the Cadet Nurse Corps program, and enrolled nearly 600 Cadet Nurses over the course of the program. Bellevue also sent a unit to WWII, the 1st General Hospital, led by Chief Nurse Thelma J. Ryan. The Mills School closed to students for WWII. With the Cadet Nurse Corps in place, Bellevue admitted and graduated four classes a year. Mills reopened to male students in 1948. Under Blanche Edwards' leadership, the Bellevue Schools of Nursing in 1942 introduced a baccalaureate program in conjunction with New York University, whereby students who so chose could do additional coursework to graduate with a degree from NYU. With the affiliation with NYU, the governance of the Schools became tripartite - New York City Department of Hospitals, the Board of Managers, and New York University College of Medicine. A few years later, in 1947, Bellevue shifted to a forty-hour, five-day work week for both student nurses and hospital staff.

The 1950s were a time of change for the Schools of Nursing. A twelve-week psychiatric nursing module was introduced to comply with new requirement issued by the New York State Education Department. Affiliation with the Willard Parker Hospital (for communicable disease) was terminated in 1952, and at that time dealing with communicable disease was integrated into the overall school curriculum. Four years later Bellevue Hospital opened its own Communicable Disease Unit, which opened up further opportunities for student experience. Students were also offered new opportunities to study in Pediatrics - the care of premature infants - and Home Care. In 1957, Mills students were permitted to study obstetric nursing for the first time in Mills history.

In 1952, the administration of the Schools of Nursing and the Bellevue Hospital Nursing Service was split for the first time, with the creation of two new titles "Associate Director for the Schools of Nursing" and the "Associate Director for Nursing Service." These positions remained under a single Director of the Bellevue Schools of Nursing and Nursing Service. Elsie Palmer was the first Associate Director of the Schools of Nursing. The "old 440" building that had contained the School of Nursing and student housing was demolished to make way for a larger, more modern structure to accommodate a larger student body; the new building opened in 1954. Also in 1954, the schools enrolled in the newly formed National Student Nurses Association. Joseph Barry, Mills Class of 1954, was the first Recording Secretary.

The Mills school name was brought back in 1958, when the Bellevue Schools of Nursing became the " Bellevue and Mills Schools of Nursing." In 1959, the tradition of admitting students to both a Spring and a Fall class each year was discontinued, and the Schools began admitting just one class to enter in September. 1959 also marked the entry of the last class eligible for a Bachelor of Science degree at NYU.

In 1963 the curriculum was shortened from three years to two years and nine months to enable students to take the State Board examinations in July (rather than having to wait until November). At this time, the school initiated discussions with Hunter College of the City University of New York about alternate types of nursing programs that might be possible. (NYU was approached first, given the university's prior affiliation with Bellevue, but no agreement was reached.) Negotiations with Hunter College concluded with a contract signed in August 1967 that transferred the schools' facilities to Hunter College, which would offer students a Baccalaureate Degree with four years of study. The contract became effective in September 1967, and no further students were admitted to the Bellevue and Mills Schools of Nursing after that date. The final diploma class graduated in 1969.

Prominent graduates include: Isabel Hampton Robb, Lavinia L. Dock, Edith A. Draper, Jane A. Delano, and Lucy Minnigerode.

Scope and Content Note

This is a small collection, containing photographs, yearbooks, a few publications, annual announcements, a school history and some reports on operations. The items in this collection come from different sources, and were accessioned into the Archives individually rather than as one discrete collection. Thus, this is a guide to a virtual collection of records, related to each other by their connection to the Bellevue Schools of Nursing.


This collection is arranged in seven series:
  • Administration
  • History
  • Photographs
  • Publications
  • Realia
  • Students
  • Yearbook, The Crane and Cross

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation:
Identification of item, date (if known).  Bellevue Schools of Nursing Records, 1893-1969, box number, folder number. The Lillian and Clarence de la Chapelle Medical Archives, NYU Health Sciences Library.