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Then and Now: Sacred Heart School of Nursing

In the late 1890s, Spokane’s three hospitals – Deaconess, Sacred Heart and St. Luke’s – had a shortage of trained nurses. Sacred Heart Hospital School of Nursing launched in 1898, with the other two hospitals following shortly after. America’s first nursing schools, in Eastern states, dated back to the Civil War era.

One reason nurses were needed was to combat the spread of tropical diseases brought home by soldiers and sailors of the Spanish-American War.

In the early years, the nursing profession required young, unmarried women to live in a dormitory environment and work six days a week, up to 12 hours a day. Three years became the standard length of training.

The first few classes had only a handful of students. The most pressing needs in the hospital were sanitation, controlling infection, changing dressings and giving baths. Topics like anatomy, bacterial disease and properties of drugs were left to doctors.

World War I and the 1918 flu outbreak increased demand for personnel. To meet the growing need for skilled staff, nursing schools broadened their training. Sacred Heart students took extra classes at Gonzaga University. Deaconess nurses went to Whitworth University and St. Luke’s nurses to Eastern Washington State College. All nursing schools raised their entrance requirements.

Sacred Heart built a new nursing school building where each class had grown to be 100 or more students, drawing students from Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. An itemized list printed in the newspaper tallied $2,290.88 as the cost of a nursing education in 1945, including textbooks, uniforms with navy blue capes and room and board.

During World War II, many nursing graduates, and sometimes their instructors, headed into public service in hospitals where injured servicemen were recovering.

Clara Monroe, of Missoula, completed the program in 1951 as the school’s first African-American graduate.

In 1961, Sacred Heart’s school opened to married women, up to age 45, for the first time. Until then, cadet nurses weren’t allowed to marry until their third year of training. The 1950s brought the first male nursing students, who wore white tunics and no caps.

College nursing programs were ready to take over in 1973, when the final class graduated from the Sacred Heart school.


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