Nursing history gets a philanthropic boost

Covers of three publications: a LIFE Magazine, an Air Force manual, and a manual on flight nursing

Nurses worldwide have been rightfully celebrated as heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. A less recognized set of heroes have been nurse historians, who have helped fight the pandemic by detailing the progression, outcomes and lessons learned from past such crises, including the flu pandemic of 1918. Their archives and analyses are valued assets that have informed the response to a public health crisis unlike any in living memory.

Scholars of the Midwest Nursing History Research Center are among those making major contributions to preserving the history of nursing. The MNHRC, established at the UIC College of Nursing in 1978, is one of only three dedicated history centers within schools of nursing in the United States, and the sole center in the Midwest and West.

Over the decades, under astute leaders including Olga Church, Mitzi Duxbury and Brigid Lusk, the MNHRC has become home to key artifacts, including records of the Illinois Training School, the Illinois Nurses’ Association, the Chicago Visiting Nurses Association, the Illinois Association of School Nurses and the Cook County School of Nursing. It even houses some original Florence Nightingale letters.

Now these contributions have been recognized with funding from the Tawani Foundation/Pritzker Military Museum & Library (PMML) to support two important projects.

“The U.S. Army School of Nursing, 1918-1931: Nursing in the U.S. Military Hospitals during and immediately following WWI” is a project that explores the experiences of student nurses working in U.S. military hospitals during those years, with a special focus on the student nurses working during the influenza pandemic.

Another project, “S. Base Hospitals of WWI: The Chicago Story,” uses Chicago’s four military base hospitals as a case study to examine the formation and practice of such hospitals during the First World War.

Donors called to meet $15,000 challenge

In addition to its original gift, PMML has offered another $15,000 as a matching gift challenge. The college has been fundraising to meet this challenge and is now 70% of the way to securing what will amount to $30,000 in additional support for the MNHRC.

“So many people have stepped up to participate in this challenge,” says Gwyneth Milbrath, PhD, RN, RN, current director of the MNHRC. “It’s encouraging to see how many donors believe in the value of documenting and preserving the long, proud history of the nursing profession.”

With a goal to secure the match by June 30, 2021, UIC Nursing’s assistant dean for advancement Steven George feels optimistic donors will come through. “Nurses are experts at learning from the past, whether that’s their personal past in practice or society’s past in public health,” he says. “It’s a skill that helps make them great practitioners.

“Many nurses and nursing alumni have already given to help us secure the extra gift from PMML,” George adds, “and I feel confident even more will stand with us to meet and exceed the challenge.”