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On May 19, 2018, a proud tradition ended. For 136 years, there has been a connection between McLean Hospital and the graduates of the McLean Hospital School of Nursing. For the last 50 years, there has been no school of nursing, but that did not diminish the alumni’s desire to maintain the connection to “our McLean.” With less than 150 alumni remaining, it became time to close the alumni association. It was not without sadness that we severed our formal ties with McLean. Our alumni are proud graduates of McLean and have strong attachments to their school of nursing. We were pleased to hold our annual meeting in Pierce Hall. It brought back many memories.
I have attended alumni meetings since childhood. My father was a 1939 graduate of McLean. He is the handsome gentleman playing golf in the photo seen around campus. Back then, our alumni meetings were lavish and spectacular, hugely attended, and filled with food and dancing. However, the years took their toll on the number of alumni attending the meetings and people willing to serve as directors and officers. I have humbly held the position of alumni president for 37 years. My gavel has now been laid to rest—yet our attachment to McLean will continue. McLean graduates will always walk the halls and tunnels of McLean. Perhaps you will catch a faint glimpse of us.
On behalf of my sister and myself, I want to thank the McLean Hospital School of Nursing alumni for the warm welcome and willingness to include us at the last meeting of the alumni association. On a very personal level, we felt it keenly important to share our parents’—John Rideout (Class of 1949) and Elizabeth “Betty” (Andrews) Rideout (Class of 1947)—memorabilia of their experience of nursing school, and the impact it had on their professional nursing careers. We were pleased to bring written material, pictures, a nursing student uniform (complete with starched apron, cuffs, and collar), all providing a glimpse into a learning experience that forged so many warm and enduring friendships. The program on that last day was surely well planned and engaging, and the alumni association is to be congratulated in making provision for the disposition of assets in support of nursing education and research. Again, our sincere thanks for giving us the opportunity to join you, as it helped us give our parents a presence in a place that held great meaning to them both.
As a McLean newcomer, it was my privilege to attend the last meeting of the McLean Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association on Saturday, May 19. Linda M. Flaherty, RN/PCNS, senior vice president for Patient Care Services; Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean’s president and psychiatrist in chief; and Terry Bragg, MSLS, MA, McLean Hospital’s archivist and director of Professional Staff Affairs, were in attendance to bid farewell to the last group with a direct and continuous connection to the original nurses training school. McLean Asylum Training School for Nurses was the first of its kind in the world. The school opened in 1882, under the direction of Matron Linda Richards, the first woman to earn a diploma in nursing, and Medical Superintendent Dr. Edward Cowles, who learned the art of hospital administration during the Civil War. Of note, Linda Richards was mentored in England by Florence Nightingale prior to returning to the U.S. and opening several schools of nursing. Fifteen women graduated from the McLean training school in 1886, the same year men were admitted. McLean has long been at the forefront of progressive thinking.
In laying the foundation for the school, Richards and Cowles were greatly influenced by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, who had opened several psychiatric facilities based on principles of non-restraint. At the same time, moral treatment was emerging as an organizing force for care practices, and institutions were looking to attract higher-quality personnel. This truly was the beginning of hospital-based mental health nursing as we know it today.
Establishing the school at McLean changed the landscape of psychiatric care by insisting on a level of competence and character for those caring for people with mental illnesses. Through the centuries, this tradition has continued with many former and present McLean Hospital nurses at the cutting edge of mental health nursing practice, education, and research.
As I spoke with alumni on May 19, I was struck by the myriad career paths they had taken after leaving school. Many assured me that their time at the McLean Hospital School of Nursing had prepared them well for the future. Dr. Sonja Peterson had a distinguished career teaching psychiatric mental health nursing at UMass, Dartmouth, while Dr. Beverly Bartlett pursued dual careers of nursing academic and bed and breakfast owner on the coast of Maine. I enjoyed conversations with educators, business owners, Vietnam veterans, nurse anesthetists, and one psychiatric mental health nurse still in practice! Vera Dunkley was given a tour of her old stomping grounds in nursing administration by Linda Flaherty. The class of 1968 talked of receiving special phone calls from Margaret Tibbetts letting them know the good news that they had been accepted to the last graduating class of the nursing school.
I was surprised and humbled by the alumni association’s generous donation toward nursing research at McLean. This will open possibilities to keep the McLean Hospital traditions of nursing practice, education, research, and innovation alive. In my office, there are two out-of-print books by Ida Jean Orlando Pelletier published in 1954 and 1961. These small books speak volumes, reminding us all once again that we stand on the shoulders of giants. The giants are all the McLean Hospital School of Nursing alumni who generously donated to their association in appreciation of the education they received. Here’s a big thank you to the McLean Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. I hope to hear more stories from alumni to add to this brief history and reflection and to keep this historical connection alive. McLean would not be the fine institution it is without the nursing school students who have wandered the hallways and tunnels and those who still do.