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Grace Hospital - Nursing School - (back to History Wall Main Page)



Maria Purdon Allen - 1910–1924
Alice Wilds - 1924-1937
Irene Rust* - 1937-1943
Zonie Coffey Houston - 1943-1946
Hazel Williams - 1946-1947
Iris Ruth McGimsey Morrison - 1946-1948
Augusta Laxton - 1948-1953
Jewel Reeves - 1953-1957
Zonie Coffey Houston - 1957-1960
Agnes Campbell - 1960-1963
Dr. Frances Farthing - 1963-1974

*Bess Ogletree was acting director for one year.

The Grace Hospital School of Nursing is founded by Maria P. Allen who serves as superintendent of nurses until 1924.

Grace Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association forms in 1921.

Irene Rust, RN, a 1932 graduate of the School of Nursing, becomes Director of Nurses. She is the first Burke native to head the nursing services. She enlisted in the Navy in 1943.

Lola Wilson, RN, was the first student graduated from the Grace Hospital School
of Nursing in 1913. She was the only one from her class of three to take the State Board examination the year she graduated. In 1942, she was “doing Social Welfare work in Raleigh” when she stopped by to visit the hospital. She also attended the Grace Hospital 50th anniversary in 1956.

Grace Hospital School of Nursing affiliates with Lenoir-Rhyne College to offer four-year nursing degree.

James D. Sprouse of Union Mills, N.C., became the first man, in the nine-year history of Lenoir-Rhyne nursing, to enter the program. “I think we finally came to our senses, shook off the out-dated idea that nursing is just
for women, and made a decision that we were afraid to make several years ago, and I think we are glad we did,” Sprouse said in an interview. He received a loan from Grace Hospital to help finance his career as an anesthetist. All registered anesthetists must first be registered nurses.

Grace Hospital ends financial support of Lenoir-Rhyne College nursing program but continues its affiliation to students for clinical experience.

“Our graduates volunteered for war work, and those who went to the camps were all made head nurses, a very gratifying record. We have needed pupil nurses very much, and can but hope that there will be more applicants, with the closing of the great military hospitals.”

“During our rotation in the obstetrics ward, we monitored the patients in labor and assisted with the delivery of babies. Babies were taken to their mothers for feeding every four hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The nursery staff fed the babies during the night shift to allow the mothers to have a good night’s rest. After delivery, the mothers were not allowed out of bed for at least three days. They usually stayed in the hospital from seven to 10 days.

Dr. J.B. Helms taught obstetrics and he emphasized that the first baby could come any time after the wedding but it always took nine months for the second to arrive.”

“New students served a four month probationary period during which time they spent not more than three hours a day on duty. At the end of that time they began to receive a $5.00 monthly stipend. Books and uniforms were provided, and there was no charge for tuition.”

Jane Franklin Robinson, Class of 1961, put together a display of dolls showing nursing uniform styles from 1910 to 1958.

Student life for the nurses-to-be in the 1940s included softball games.

Here is a nursing instruction class from the 1950s.

A nursing student in the 1960s meets with Ms. Farthing.

These graduating nurses pose outside the hospital prior to 1929. Nursing Superintendent Miss Alice Wilds is pictured in the white stockings and shoes.

Maria Allen Founds Grace Hospital School of Nursing in 1910

Grace Hospital School of Nursing was established in 1910 by Maria Purdon Allen, RN. Miss Allen was a missionary nurse sent by the Episcopal Church in 1903 to serve in Morganton and the surrounding counties. Her 1905 article in a church publication, The Spirit of Missions, outlining the need for a small hospital, led to a contribution from Mrs. George Zabriskie Gray of New York City and, in 1906, the opening of Grace Hospital.

In 1908, two small cottages were purchased on the hospital grounds, one to be used for a tuberculosis pavilion and the other for a nurses’ home. A shortage of trained nurses and a rapidly growing patient census at the hospital led Miss Allen to organize the Grace Hospital
School of Nursing. She served as Director of Nurses until 1924.

Unknown nursing students shown here in front of the School of Nursing sign.

The Grace Hospital School of Nursing awarded graduates a three-year diploma. Applicants were required to be single women between the ages of 18 and 25 with a high school diploma and “in good health and of good moral character.”

New students served a four-month probationary period during which time they spent not more than three hours a day on duty. At the end of that time they began to receive a $5.00 monthly stipend. Books and uniforms were provided and there was no charge for tuition.

The school was wholly owned and operated by Grace Hospital. Its first priority was the education of students but it also served a critical role providing student assistants to hospital staff. Members of the medical staff served as teachers and all training took place in the hospital. Students learned by doing.

Until the new nurses home was built in 1938, students lived in the hospital, sometimes giving up their rooms to patients and sleeping on cots on the porches.

The first graduate of the Grace Hospital School of Nursing was Miss Lola Wilson in 1913. During Miss Allen’s term as Director of Nursing, from 1910 to 1924, there were 21 graduates.


Miss Maria Allen, Miss Lola Wilson, Mrs. Carlotta Smith Norton, Miss Ila Oxentine and Miss Alice Wilds established The Grace Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association in 1921.

Its missions were to encourage in students and graduates alike a high standard of ethical and professional conduct, to promote fellowship between the nurses, foster an interest in professional growth including sponsoring continuing education programs locally and to offer financial assistance to deserving students.

The group called themselves “Grace Sisters.” The “Grace Sisters” remain active today. They continue to meet monthly often with guest speakers who still provide continuing education on the state of healthcare.

In 1996, the Grace Hospital School of Nursing Alumnae Association in conjunction with Western Piedmont Community College, established a scholarship fund for students pursuing an associate degree in nursing.

In 2005, the Association raised $15,000 to purchase a bronze bust representing nurses, sculpted by Alex Hallmark, for the World War II memorial in front of the new Burke County Courthouse.

The Association compiled a history of the Grace Hospital School of Nursing titled “Grace Sisters” that included a history of Grace Hospital as well as of the Nursing School, copies of selections from the student yearbook The Silver Cross, from 1951 to 1963, and additional photographs and reminiscences from graduates.

Grace’s Cap and Cross Symbolize Excellence

Frances Farthing, (left) chairman of Lenoir-Rhyne-Grace Hospital School of Nursing, caps Martha Mitchell, Class of 1971.

Grace Hospital School of Nursing students received their caps in a ceremony after completing the first six months of the pre-clinical period. The cap was all white and was worn until the junior year at which time diagonal thin black ribbon strips were applied to the sides of the cap. For senior students, the black ribbon strip was applied to the cap about an inch from the top edge.

At the capping ceremony, students were presented with a silver cross on a chain rather than the more traditional pin. Grace’s school was unique in adopting the cross as the school insignia. The silver cross was a replica of the cross worn by the Rev. Walter Hughson, hospital founder. At the completion of their training, the nurse’s cross was engraved on the front with the initials “IHS” which stands for “In His Service” and on the back with “Grace Hospital School of Nursing” and the graduation date.

The school of nursing was founded on the Christian faith. Under Mrs. Hughson’s direction, every day began with a prayer service with the nurses in the halls of the hospital. Grace Hospital itself was a mission of the Episcopal Church. The rector of Grace Church was a permanent member of the board of trustees until the hospital was given to the community and after that the rector continued to serve as hospital chaplain. Cappings, baccalaureates and commencements often occurred at Grace Episcopal Church until about 1980 when Lenoir-Rhyne College became the ceremonial site. A prayer bench, a gift from the nursing school’s Senior Class of 1958, once used in the hospital’s Hughson Chapel, is now in use at Grace Church.

Training Manual Outlines Duties for Early Nurses

The following is an excerpt from The Grace Hospital Training School for Nurses 1910 manual.

The course of instruction in the training school covers a period of three years and young women may enter between the ages of 18 and 30 years.

Applicants should be in good health and have had such an education as will enable them to study intelligently the text books used in the school on such subjects as anatomy and physiology, material medical, dietetics, etc.; while in arithmetic, they need to have a working knowledge of fractions and percentages. The term of probation is three months and for the first two no allowances will be paid. After that, each pupil will receive $5.00 a month for the first two years and uniforms, caps and aprons will be provided by the school, with text books as they are needed.

For the third year, $10.00 a month is paid them. This allowance is not to be considered as payment, the instruction given in the Training School being regarded as sufficient compensation for services rendered.

Each probationer must include the following articles in her wardrobe; three cotton dresses, made with a band an inch and a half wide, fastening with two small buttons; a watch with a second hand; a pair of scissors; a comfortable pair of shoes with low broad heels; overshoes and an umbrella. She should be provided with sufficient money to cover her car fare home should she prove unequal to the work.

She must remain in bed at least seven hours each day and endeavor to spend some time out of doors. Night nurses may sometimes be given hours off duty at night, either on a week day or on Sunday to attend service. All nurses are expected to undertake any duties assigned them cheerfully and willingly and to report promptly for each meal.

Should any mistake be made in giving treatment, or should any have been neglected, the fact must be reported to the superintendent or the nurse in charge immediately, as well as the breaking or losing of any articles.

The managers of Grace Hospital wish the nurses to be impressed with the fact that a uniform kindness must be shown to the patients and each other, and that the comfort and wellbeing of the patients, supposedly greater in each case than it could be without this institution, is the only reason for the existence of Grace Hospital.

Nurses on all shifts must make a report in writing after each shift as to the condition of the patients under her charge, calling attention to any new or grave feature regarding them.

Grace Nurses Called to Wars

Grace Hospital School of Nursing was represented in the Armed Forces in times of war. Three of its nurses served in World War I and many answered the call for nurses in World War II.

During World War II another 32 nursing students enrolled in the Cadet Corp. This was a government sponsored program in which all tuition and expenses of a student were paid along with an additional monthly stipend in return for the student’s commitment to practice essential nursing after graduation until the end of the war. To honor these “Grace Sisters,” the Nursing School Alumnae raised money for a bronze bust of a nurse to be included in a World War II tribute on the Burke County Courthouse Lawn. Grace Hospital School of Nurses who served in World War I are:

Marie Silver, RN
Eldy Whisnant, RN
Ila Ethel Miller, RN

Nurses who answered the call in World War II were:

1st Lt. Elizabeth Avery, RN
2nd Lt. Helen Harrison, RN
1st Lt. Eugenia Brooks, RN
2nd Lt. Iris McGimsey, RN
2nd Lt. Catherine Cox, RN
Ensign Agnes Packett, RN
1st Lt. Martha Currence, RN
1st Lt. Gernell Hudson, RN
2nd Lt. Katherine Kissiah, RN
2nd Lt. Mildred Lyday, RN
Ensign Mary Lee Donoho, RN
Ensign Evelyn Irene Rust, RN
1st Lt. Hazel Guinn, RN
2nd Lt. Beatrice Salyer, RN
2nd Lt. Wilhelmina Simmons, RN
2nd Lt. Margaret Sherrill, RN
1st Lt. Virginia Wenger, RN
2nd Lt. Mildred Wilkey, RN
Ensign Ruby Williams, RN
Katherine Hicks, RN

Class of 1946 U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps

Class of 1948 U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps

Class of 1947 U.S. Nurse Cadet Corps