History of Nursing in Nevada

Nurses Who Changed the Landscape of Nursing in Nevada

Circa 1850s

Florentina (Nellie) Nostrossa (from Peru) learned midwifery in Eureka, Nevada via informal training helping two local doctors.

1862

There was at least one midwife in Virginia City, although her name is unknown.

1875

St. Mary’s Hospital in Virginia City was established by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul down Six-Mile Canyon. Three religious Sisters arrived to set things up in 1864, Frederica, Xavier and Mary Elizabeth. In 1875, the hospital was described as “the best in the mining district.” The hospital was named St. Mary Louise Hospital, named after Mary Louise Bryant Mackay, who donated the land. The four story building accommodated 60 to 70 patients. The first patient was admitted in 1876. The Hospital, supported by fees from miners, did emergency surgery only. The Daughters soon established a school and an orphanage.

1880s

Eliza Cook was one of Nevada’s first frontier doctors. She was first tutored in nursing by Dr. H.W. Smith to provide nursing care for his wife, ill with puerperal fever. Cook read all of Dr. Smith’s medical books while working as his assistant and nurse. After 6 months (1882) she applied to and was accepted in medical school. She practiced in Sheridan, and later worked with a physician mentor in Genoa. “At this time, there were Reservation Hospitals for the Indians of Nevada with approximately 100 beds in all. There were 2 hospitals in Reno: Washoe County General Hospital and the Catholic St. Mary’s. Owyhee, headquarters of Duck Valley Indian Reservation also had a hospital and a school to serve about 400 Indians who cultivated farms along the river.” Walker Lake Reservation also had a hospital. In 1881 legislative monies were appropriated to establish a hospital near Reno for “nervous and mental cases”.

1893

State Board of Health was established. 1899: Mary Oxborrow, a midwife educated in Salt Lake City, provided medical care and delivered babies in Lund NV until her death in 1935.

1898

The first Red Cross Society of Nevada formed in Carson City through the efforts of Mrs. H.A. Lemmon. Within a month, groups formed in Wadsworth, Reno, Virginia City, Austin, and Winnemucca, and then gathered in Reno to form the Nevada State Red Cross Association. They raised funds to gather and distribute clothing, food, bedding and medical supplies to enlisted men. They were active in volunteer efforts in the Spanish American War.

Early 1900s

Mining companies built hospitals in McGill, Ruth, and East Ely. Workers paid a monthly premium for emergency care. Nurses came from other states to work in hospitals that opened in the Reno area. The first 20th century hospital was a small 5 room facility for students on the University Nevada Reno campus. It was run by a practical nurse.

1907

Nevada State Journal newspaper ran a story that local nurses were organizing to form a “labor union.” The critical tone of the front page story accused nurses of being “more interested in money than patient welfare.” It reported that “the goals of the nurses were to secure a wage of no less than $45.00 a month, a move towards eight hour shifts and a limit to the amount of housework to be done by nurses.” Jessie Joslyn Nelson responded to the press immediately to clarify the purposes of the organization, stating “every state was forming a nurses’ organization and that medical associations were not accused of forming labor unions when they united.”

1908

Mary Virginia Perkins Lytle, born in Overton 1883, trained as a nurse mid-wife in Salt Lake City. She lost her first three daughters in childbirth and saw the need for trained persons to help with the delivery of babies. She was a midwife in Overton and delivered more than 200 babies in 30 years. In Reno, the Dominican Sisters converted a parochial school into a hospital, called Sister’s Hospital. Only two Nurses were hired.

1909

Elizabeth Cunningham was elected President of the newly formed Reno Nurses Association. Discussion centered around women practicing nursing “without certification of appropriate training. George McKenzie, MD, who came to Nevada from Colorado, offered to provide lectures to nurses in an effort to help establish a nurse training school at Sister’s Hospital in 1910. This created conflict among nurses about geographic variances in nurse preparation. “This is the first evidence provided by Nevada nurses of the still prevailing anti - intellectualism toward the frontier and nursing alike.”

1910

First class accepted at Sister’s Hospital. Dr. McKenzie, who encouraged the sisters to open the training school to provide help for the hospital, ran the program for 15 years. He designed the curriculum, centered around lectures to students by physicians.

1912

Sister’s Hospital became St. Mary’s Hospital. The two-year program that they opened was the first nurse training program in Nevada and 18 nurses graduated 1912. A third year provided graduate nurses with a monthly salary of $50.00 and full employment.

1914 - 1927

Margaret Arnoldus Windous was a midwife in the White River Valley for several years, then later provided nursing care in White Pine General Hospital, in Ely around 1927.

1915

The first of four attempts to legislate nurse registration in Nevada. The first plan would have the Board of Health regulate nurse examinations and licensure. Also in 1915 the Nurse Alumni Association was formed. It was called the Sesrun (nurses spelled backwards) Club. Emma Springmeyer was president. The first meeting was at the home of Elizabeth Reddant and its activities were strictly social.

1917

Nettie Johnson was the first Nevada nurse deployed in World War I. There were reportedly 50 graduate nurses in the Reno area, although no state records about this have been located. Although no state records have been located, “the Nursing Archives at Boston University indicate that the Nevada Nurses was organized on November 26, 1917. Application was made to the American Nurses Association on July 8, 1920 and acceptance was granted January 19, 1921. Elected officers were: Edith Peales, Chairman, Mary Evans, vicechairman, Mary Robinson, Treasurer.” They raised funds for the war effort during World War I, and were specifically involved with fund raising to provide a home for nurses serving in France. (There are no known primary records of the Nevada Nurses Association between 1917 and 1931)

1919

Sadie Hurst, assemblywoman from Washoe County, introduced the nurse exam and licensure legislation, which passed but was vetoed by the Governor. “The greatest opposition to the bill came from nurses who had attended training schools but did not receive diplomas.”

1921

The nurse exam and licensure bill was again introduced by Assemblyman Heward. It was similar to the previous bills and was also defeated.

1922

The last class graduated from Sister’s Hospital. It was thought that the impetus for state registration came from supporters of the St. Mary’s Hospital Training School for Nurses. “The decision to close the school was prompted by the failure of the Nevada legislature to pass a Nurse Registration Act and, without the law, nurses could not obtain reciprocal registration with other states. Essentially, Nevada preparation would be worthless so enrollment decreased. In addition, the national pressures to upgrade nursing education made increasing demands on the staff. As a result, the nursing school was sacrificed for better patient care.”

1922 to 1957

Nevada was once again devoid of any training school for nurses.

1923

Trained nurses organized and worked with support of the Nevada State Medical Society to petition the Nevada State Legislature to establish a State Board of Nurse Examiners. Assemblywoman Marguerite Gosse introduced the Nurse Practice Act of Nevada. This successful legislation provided the means to examine and register nurses in Nevada. The governor was directed to appoint three registered graduates to the Board of Nurse Examiners who would meet regularly, provide publicly announced examinations and develop lists of accredited training schools and nurses registered under the law. These women: Mary Evans, Emma Springmeyer, and Alice Craven, Board members of the Nevada Nursing organization, were instrumental in the passage of the Bill. A committee from the state nurses association had presented a draft of the proposed legislation to the Nevada State Medical Society in 1922. After the passage of the nurse registration bill, the registered nurse was compensated with higher wages and the registration law reportedly increased the efficiency and standing of the nursing profession in Nevada. The $10.00 examination fee for registration allowed nurses to put R.N. after their names. Registered nurses earned more money and the registration law reportedly increased the efficiency and standing of the nursing profession in Nevada.

1923

Nevada legislature established the Board of Nurse Examiners and Mary Evans, the first president, was issued Nevada license #1. Between 1923 and 1931, there were 196 licenses issued.

1931: The Nevada Nurses Association (NNA) incorporation

The articles of Incorporation were filed in the Office of the Secretary of State on March 23, 1931, and District One was formed. The purposes of the organization included: establish a code of ethics, improve the standards of nursing, establish reciprocity between Nevada Nurses and those of other countries and states, establish an office or meeting place, form auxiliary organizations, obtain property for the benefit of the association, and remain a non-profit organization. There were 42 members of the organization, or a 21% membership. The first president was Edith Alden, and dues were $3.00/year.

NNA was involved with employment issues at Washoe General Hospital.

1935

The Social Security Act passed.

1936

Christie Thompson Corbett announced that Nevada received $40,000 to improve health conditions in Nevada, especially in rural Nevada.

1937

NNA adopted eight-hour work day, despite objections by medical groups.

1940

NNA Membership count, 209 members out of a total of 291 registered nurses. Also in 1940, Helen Bakken arrived in Las Vegas and District Two was formed. The population in Las Vegas was approximately 8500 in 1940.

1941

NNA, at the request of the ANA and the Nursing Council on National Defense, established a state council on national defense, and in 1942, the US Cadet Nurse Corps was formed to help recruit nurses.

1942

Mary Kennedy Rhymer arrived in Las Vegas; she worked at the Clark County General Hospital as a staff nurse in the ER, OR, and maternity. By 1945, Rhymer became Director of nurses at Clark County General.

1945

Committee to study practical nursing in Nevada.

Labertha Miller Johnson, NAACP activist, was the first Black Nurse hired at Clark County General Hospital.

1946

NNA District Three was formed in Clark County.

Mid-1940s

Maida Pringle, chair of the NNA membership committee, used her vacation time from work to travel the state to recruit members. Main issues of concern were to increase membership and funds.

1947

Mary Hocker arrived in Las Vegas, where she first worked at Clark County General Hospital. In 1954 she was employed by City Jail as matron; she was the first jail matron in the nation.

1949

Professional Nurse Practice Act was amended to reinforce mandatory registration and provide penalties for violations. Legislation was passed to regulate practice of practical nursing, and Louise Terrill was hired as Joint Executive Secretary for NNA and the Board of Nurse Examiners (now the Nevada State Board of Nursing).

1950

Evelyn McColl came to Las Vegas. She worked at Clark County Health Department around 1956 where Della Fitzgerald was her supervisor. McColl later became Director of Nurses at the Clark County Health Department.

1950s

NNA established a Committee on Careers, and members visited 28 out of the 38 high schools in the state to encourage nursing as a career.

1952

There was one practical nurse program in Las Vegas.

1953

Patricia Whalen of Boulder City awarded a scholarship to study professional nursing in Utah by NNA District #3 because Nevada had no RN program.

1954

NNA participated in the statewide survey initiated by the US Department of Health Education and Welfare that identified nursing needs and ways to meet those needs. It recommended establishment of a BSN program at University of Nevada Reno.

1955

District Three’s membership exceeded 100 for the first time.

Jean Rambo in Las Vegas where she worked at Southern Nevada General Hospital.

1956

Genevieve Arensdorf arrived in Southern Nevada, where she worked as a school nurse, and later became director of nurses for the Clark County school district.

1957

The first Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in Nevada was established at UNR.

1958

Committee on School Nurse Certification formed with Ethelda Thelan as Chair.

1960

The Las Vegas population was 64,405 with 107 registered nurses. Districts Four, Five and Six were established. NNA state membership, fluctuated since the organization began, and never seemed to be more than its highest count of 27% in the early 1970s.

1963

An amendment to the Nurse Practice Act which directed the governor to solicit names for the Board of Nurse Examiners from the Nevada Nurses Association. In 1963, there were eight practical nursing programs in Nevada.

1964

Survey done to identify current and projected nursing needs in Nevada. This was initiated by the Nevada Public Health Association and recommended preparation of nurses at all educational levels. NNA also participated in this survey

Nurse Training Act passed. It helped finance nursing education and the building of nursing schools.

Barbara Generaux was the first non-religious order member to direct nursing service St Rose de Lima.

1965

Associate Degree Program in Nursing was established at Nevada Southern University, renamed University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) in 1969.

1966

Ethelda Thelan was elected President of NNA.

First Capping in Associate Degree Program at Nevada Southern (UNLV)

1968

First refresher course established for inactive RNs.

ANA Board created the position of Executive Director created and filled by Jean Rambo.

1969

Marguerite Clevenger elected NNA President

Community College system was funded.

1970

Pat Peer candidate for nation’s “Most Be-Involved Nurse.”

1970s

NNA began studying criteria for continuing education for re-licensure & became involved with economic and general welfare issues.

1971

New articles of incorporation filed. Name changed from Nevada State Nurses Association to Nevada Nurses Association.

1972

RN to BSN program at UNLV begun.

1973

Dorothy Button, NNA lobbyist, successful with Nurse Practitioner Bell in Nevada; ANA conducted workshops in Nevada on Collective bargaining.

1974

Ethelda Thelan, NNA Executive Director

1976

NNA established an office in Reno and hired a full time executive director, Pat Gothberg Smith.

1979

NNA Education Committee was formed.

1982

30 hours of continuing education became mandatory for re-licensure in nursing. NNA initially was the responsible group for accrediting these programs. 1984-1985: NNA negotiated for Washoe County School Nurses.

1990-2006

NNA continues legislative activities:

  • Executive board position with the Nevada Health Care Reform Project
  • Instrumental in passage of Nevada's Patient Protection Act and subsequent formation of the Office of Consumer Health Affairs, with requirement that the Commissioner position must be filled by a registered nurse
  • Collaborated with Senator Harry Reid for passage of national needle-stick injury legislation
  • Introduced successful state presumptive compensability legislation for blood borne infection with health care workers
  • Worked at state and national levels on issues related to safe nurse staffing

References

Nevada Nurses Association Archives at the Nevada Historical Society and at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Special Collections Department; Fries, Ellen. Organized Nursing in the Silver State: A History of the Nevada Nurses Association (1991); Fitzgerald, Mary Nursing in Las Vegas 1940-1960 (1977); Nevada Nurses Association documents; Cleeve, Jan. More Than Petticoats Remarkable Nevada Women Globe Pequot Press 2005; Watson, Anita. Into Their Own Nevada Women Emerging into Public Life Nevada Humanities Committee 2000; Puddington, Grace. A Biography of Marguerite H. Gosse; Special Collections Department, University of Nevada Reno; Nevada State Board of Nursing; James, R.M. and Elizabeth Raymond; Comstock Women The Making of a Mining Community University of Nevada Press Reno, NV 1998; Nevada Women’s History Project Southern Region Skirts That Swept the Desert Floor M.A. Duval, Ed. Stephens Press, LLC. 2006; WPA Guide to 1930s Nevada. University Press, Reno, circa 1940.