September 5, 2008
I had never used the University Archives until last year, when Barbara Smith and I began to do the research for the book 70 Years of Nursing Education at the University of Saskatchewan: 1938-2008. What we found, with the help of the archivists, were files of amazing “stuff”, veritable Pandora’s boxes full of documents and pictures from the past.
Barbara and I both took our nursing education at the U of S in the 1960s and we both worked for many years in the School/College of Nursing. I must admit we had a difficult time getting out of the 60s files. We realized that, when we were students in the program, we really had no idea of the issues and forces that were shaping the profession of nursing and the field of nursing education. We were particularly interested in the minutes of meetings, which did not seem to have been sanitized like the minutes we see today. And, of course, memos were on paper rather than via e-mail, and many, including some I had written as Dean, were quite acerbic!
But probably one of the best pieces we found was a letter that enlightened us regarding the square mortarboard caps worn by students and graduates of the U of S nursing program from about 1955 until the time when nurses no longer wore caps. A handwritten letter addressed to Miss Myrtle Crawford and dated July 6, 1954, describes in minute detail how to construct the caps. I do not know who wrote the letter, because the last page is missing, but the context leads me to believe the writer was employed in a nursing school in New York State. The letter includes several hand-drawn diagrams and a comment: “this reminds me of that course in evaluation of procedures!” She noted that the cap had to be stiffly starched, as stiff as a board, and that “the only drawback I can see would possibly be the absence of a Chinese laundry in Saskatoon… it is difficult to get sufficient starch in them and also to iron them smoothly into a perfect square with straight sides. The Chinese are wizards at it!” Accompanying the letter is a newspaper photo of a nurse wearing the mortarboard cap of the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
We spent many delightful hours in the Archives and could have spent even more time uncovering the many secrets hidden in the files. But we finally had to stop reading and start writing. The book was published in June, just in time for the 70th anniversary all-years nursing reunion.
Yvonne Brown, professor emeritus
College of Nursing
Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan