Our School of Nursing

Josephine Hamilton, First Graduate

As we all know, the School of Nursing was established in 1886.  Its inception at the time was not formally planned.  When Josephine Hamilton came to the hospital, which had been opened in 1875, and asked whether she could do anything to help, she was likely given an apron and sent out to work in the wards.  Later she apparently described how she was told to accompany the doctors when they made rounds, ask questions, and take notes.  She was, no doubt, a very self directed nurse as she was the sole member of her class.  Her curriculum was unplanned, unorganized, but all-inclusive as far as the treatment and care of children was concerned in those days.  She learned by watching and following the example of the few graduate nurses from other hospitals and community ladies who worked in the wards.

Theory and practice were totally integrated in Miss Hamilton’s programme and even though there is no record that a School of Nursing had been formed, she graduated after two years, received a parchment certificate, and later the medal of the school.  Until that time she wore her own brooch.  As a graduate, she was highly esteemed by doctors and nurses.    From this almost incidental beginning, the School of Nursing of the Hospital for Sick Children was established.  (Rolstin, p.5) After 58 years of nursing, Josephine died on November 7, 1946.

Hannah Cody, First Superintendent

In the first eleven years of its existence, the Hospital was managed by a group of women under the direction of Elizabeth McMaster, it’s founder.   In the fall of 1886, Hannah Cody, a graduate of The Toronto General Hospital, was hired as the first Superintendent of the Hospital and Nursing Department.  Under her leadership, 8 nurses graduated from a two year program which was more like an apprenticeship.

In 1891, Elizabeth McMaster, founder of the hospital, returned from nursing studies and was appointed Superintendent.  Her term was shortlived and she was followed by Kesiah Underhill in 1895.

Louise Brent, Superintendent 1896-1913

On Jan 1, 1896, Louise Brent was appointed as Superintendent of HSC.  The work and reputation of the hospital had been steadily growing, but it was during her administrative term that both the hospital and the school gained recognition as one of the foremost paediatric treatment centres and Schools of Nursing in North America.  Under her direction, and with the support of John Ross Robertson, she was able to implement new methods and introduce new styles of teaching that were considered advanced for the times.  Miss Brent increased the nursing course from two to three years.  Mr Robertson funded the building of a state of the art nursing residence which allowed the nursing programme and enrollment to expand.

One of the key figures in the history of the School was one of Ontario’s best-known and most popular nurses, Miss Jean I. Masten.  She was a graduate of the Class of 1930 and served as Director of Nursing for 22 years from

Jean Masten, Director of Nursing 1939 - 1961

1939 to 1961.  She was Director through difficult and challenging times – polio epidemics, World War II, and the planning and construction of the hospital at 555 University Ave.  Apparently she had a strong nursing hand in the layout and many other details associated with the planned relocation of the hospital.  Graduates credit her with the smooth move from 67 College St, which was apparently carried out without a hitch.

Our website will feature stories and articles about our nursing leaders and the School of Nursing as time allows these to be transferred to this site.  Hilda Rolstin, Cl’43 wrote a “History of the School of Nursing, The Hospital for Sick Children” for the Alumnae Association in 1972.  It is a comprehensive look at our nursing curriculum and development over some 86 years.  Some chapters are worth posting here.  Also, for the 100th Anniversary of the Alumnae Association in 2003, a wonderful book, “100 years: A Celebration of the Alumnae Association of the School of Nursing, The Hospital for Sick Children” was printed and given to graduates who attended the celebration.  Limited copies of this book may still be available.

In 1973, all Schools of Nursing in Ontario were informed by a joint communique from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities and the Ontario Ministry of Health that “a decision has been taken to transfer the responsibility for nursing education at the diploma level from the hospital and regional schools to the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology – the transfer was to occur on Sept 1, 1973”.  Linking to some of the Alumnae News articles below, specifically Elsbeth Geiger’s article, will show the emotional turmoil that our School of Nursing was facing as early as the mid-60s as change was in the wind.  It was not an easy time.

1. Looking Back and Preparing for the Move: Jean Masten, June 1950

Jean Masten’s Report to the Graduating Class of June 13, 1950 Note:  This article appears in the 1950 edition of  “The Alumnae News”.  It provides a wonderful overview of life and times at HSC as staff plan for their upcoming move from College Street (1892 – 1951) to 555 University Avenue.  Many graduates will remember […]

2. Reflections on the Move to 555 University Ave – Dr. E.A. Morgan

Excerpts from address by Dr. E.A. Morgan to the Graduating Class May 1951- as printe in “Alumnae News”, 1952 “………….Great changes have occurred since the last graduating exercises.  We have moved into a wonderful new hospital but the change has been attended by mixed emotions and many of us feel as though we have left […]

3. A Moment In Time: Sick Kids Nurses in Jean Masten’s Era – Kay Cowan

By Kay (Little) Cowan.  Article appeared in “Alumnae News”, Fall, 1999 We stood in a semi-circle, quietly at attention, proud of our blue uniforms and starched white aprons and bibs that shortly would be scrunched and wrinkled from cuddling and feeding our wee charges on Infant Medicine or the toddlers on Surgery with casts on […]

4. Is the Nurse Necessary in Modern Paediatrics? – Florence Erickson, Ph.D – 1964

Florence Ericson, Ph.D, University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing Excerpts from an article that appeared in “Alumnae News” December 1964 Dr Erickson was speaking at a conference in 1964 on the role of nursing in the care of sick children.  Only a little of her speech is highlighted here, enough to give a flavor of […]

5. What’s Going On In Nursing Education in Ontario Today? – Elsbeth Geiger, 1966

Elsbeth Geiger, Director of Nursing, Hospital for Sick Children Article from “Alumnae News”, Spring 1966 “1965 was a decision year for Schools of Nursing in Ontario.  Certain definite changes were announced by the Government in mid-June and planning for these changes will have to go on during the next few years. Due to increased demands […]

6. ‘beyond the dream’: A Legacy of Nursing at SickKids – Thoughts from Margaret Keating – 2007

Margaret Keating talks about the production of the DVD. Article printed in “Alumnae News”, Fall 2007 Editor’s comments:  As members of the alumnae we have much to be grateful for to Margaret Keatings, Vice President Professional Practice and Chief Nursing Executive.  Margaret was the driving force and energy behind the DVD “beyond the dream”.  We […]