Boston College Nursing Beginnings

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Boston College Heights, January 31, 1947.

Despite its concrete status on campus today, the Boston College School of Nursing was not always a part of the University. In fact, in its official capacity as an on-campus entity of Boston College, what is now known as the Connell School of Nursing based mainly in Cushing Hall is relatively recent. The School of Nursing was founded in 1947, but not on the Heights. Classes were held on Newbury Street at Boston College Intown, which was also the original location of both the School of Social Work and the Evening School, now known as the Woods College of Advancing Studies.

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Boston College School of Nursing Suggested Curriculum Revisions, Box 7, Folder 1, Joseph RN Maxwell, S.J. President’s Office Records, BC2013.016, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Nursing School was conceived and opened as a result of the need for Catholic nurses. Despite many nursing diploma programs nearby, Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts and elsewhere sought Catholically-trained nurses, and women religious and lay alike sought an education in nursing with a Catholic focus. Many women had recently returned from stations around the globe as World War II nurses. Boston College provided an opportunity beyond that of rote nursing skill sets, and focused also on leadership and nursing education. This was supplemented by an emphasis on humanities, in an effort to produce well-rounded, intellectual, and skilled nurses for the workforce.  Irish Catholic men who had attended BC as students themselves looked fondly upon their daughters sharing in the Boston College experience, at least in some capacity.

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Basic Tuitions,  Box 7, Folder 2, Joseph RN Maxwell, S. J., President’s Office Records, BC2013.016, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The school began in February, 1947 with the intent to grant graduate nurses, those who had completed a diploma program, the opportunity to obtain a Bachelor of Science. The following September the school admitted students seeking both the diploma in nursing as well as the Bachelor of Science. The curriculum combined nursing with arts and sciences, allowing the students to gain a more comprehensive education.

Tuition was set at a mere $600 in 1956, an increase of $100 from previous years, and the statistics on students are incredibly interesting and telling for the time. A 1954 report of the Basic Collegiate program stated the numbers of students in each class, as well as the number of students who had left the program. These latter numbers and names were accompanied by the reason for leaving, and the reasons range from poor scholarship, to transfers, to marriage. The first dean of the school was Mary Ann Maher, a well-trained and extremely reputable figure in the nursing world.

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Boston College Heights, February 7, 1947.

After only a year, Dean Maher felt her talents were not being utilized, as there was little assistance from administration and a general lack of interest in helping the Nursing School get off the ground. Sister Rita Kelleher became the interim dean, and soon after took the position permanently and held it for nearly thirty years. Dean Kelleher saw the school through its tenuous start, and was instrumental in her administration and staffing to enable the school to grow and thrive. The Nursing School was a groundbreaking endeavor, and though ultimately successful, not without its challenges.

  • Megan Keating, BC ’15 and former Burns Library Reading Room Assistant

Works Consulted
“Classes Begin Monday at New Boston College School of Nursing,” Boston College Heights, January 31, 1947——-en-20–1–txt-IN—–

Boston College School of Nursing Suggested Curriculum Revisions, BC 2013.016 Joseph RN Maxwell, S.J. President’s Office Records, Box 7, Folder 1.

Boston College Office of the President, Basic Tuitions BC 2013.016 Joseph RN Maxwell, S.J. President’s Office Records, Box 7, Folder 2.

Boston College School of Nursing Report of Programs—Basic Collegiate, BC 2013.016 Joseph RN Maxwell, S.J. President’s Office Records, Box 7, Folder 1.

February 7, 1947 “Mary Ann Maher Appointed Dean of the New School of Nursing”——-en-20–1–txt-IN—–

Rita P. Kelleher, Memoirs: Boston College School of Nursing, 1947-1973, (Chestnut Hill MA, 1987), in John J. Burns Library, General Collection.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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