For over a half century, the University of Connecticut School of Nursing has prepared professional nurses who have gone on to provide leadership at state, national and international levels.
Hallmarks of the school’s development include the founding of the school (1942), the establishment of the master’s degree program (1971), and the establishment of the doctoral degree program (1994).
The School of Nursing was the first public institution in Connecticut to offer a program leading to a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and in the fall of 1942, thirteen students were the first to be enrolled into the newly established UConn School of Nursing.
70 Years of Nursing Excellence!
Carolyn Ladd Widmer
A Phi Beta Kappa Wellesley College and Yale University School of Nursing graduate, Carolyn Ladd Widmer, served as the school’s first dean from 1942 to 1967. Prior to her arrival at UConn, she was the founding director of the School of Nursing at the American University of Beirut. Within her time as dean, UConn was rated in the top 25% of the nation’s schools of nursing by the 1949 survey performed by the National Committee for the Improvement of Nursing Services.
The faculty appointment of the first-full time instructor, Miss Josephine A. Dolan, in 1944, was of great importance. Dolan’s later revision to the Goodnow’s History of Nursing appeared in 1953, and became Dolan’s History of Nursing, and later known as Nursing in Society. She was a national authority on the history of nursing and her revisions earned her two honorary doctorates, as well as the Connecticut Nurses’ Association establishment of an award in her honor for outstanding contributions to nursing education.
40’s and 50’s
The UConn School of Nursing Alumni and Friends Society, established early in the schools history as separate from the UConn Alumni Association, performed a great deal of tasks for the school. This association financed student delegate trips to the national conventions, donated money to Miss Dolan for the purchase of materials pertaining to nursing history, established the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Scholarship to provide emergency financial aid to students in need, planned and conducted the ceremonies celebrating the tenth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth, and fiftieth anniversaries of the School of Nursing, and established a program of speaking about nursing careers in high schools around the state.
Initially the School of Nursing’s curriculum was five years in length. Students in the first class were also enrolled in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service, designed to increase the number of nurses needed to meet the WWII crisis. One member of that pioneer class later became the first director of the Division of Nursing at Southern Connecticut State (College) University. In accord with national trends, in 1953 the UConn program was shortened from five to four calendar years. Approximately equal time was devoted to nursing and non-nursing course work at that time.
50’s and 60’s
A survey of graduates conducted in 1966 revealed that alumni of the UConn School of Nursing held a broad array of national and international positions. The variety of jobs included the Peace Corps, armed forces, nursing service settings, academic institutions and religious orders. One graduate of the class of 1948 had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service rendered during the Korean Conflict.
Sigma Theta Tau
In 1955, the Mu chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing was chartered at the University of Connecticut. It had been preceded by the 1948 establishment of the local nursing honor society, Tau Pi Upsilon, standing for the Greek words meaning “healers and sustainers of health.”
Following Dean Widmer, Eleanor K. Gill led the school from 1967 until her retirement in 1980. In December, 1970, the UConn School of Nursing initiated and organized interdisciplinary team activities among the faculty and students from the health professional schools of Nursing, Allied Health, Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Social Work, and Nutritional Science in December, 1970. The organizations efforts resulted in the implementation of a new curriculum that advocated a joint effort of health schools in training nursing students. The combination of medical specialties in the establishment of interdisciplinary courses facilitated and enhanced the effectiveness of teaching and learning nursing, ultimately bettering the rendering of health care.
70’s and 80’s
In 1971 the first class was admitted to the School of Nursing’s Master of Science program designed to prepare nurse educators and master clinicians, and later, nurse managers. Two graduates of that decade later completed doctoral studies and went on to become deans of schools of nursing, one at St. Joseph College and one at her alma mater, the University of Connecticut.
By 1980, 146 nurses had completed the rigorous courses of advanced study and by 1995 the number exceeded 500. Current students continue to have an impact on health care through their advanced practice and by presenting their research findings at regional and national meetings.
Throughout the beginnings of the UConn School of Nursing, many students found that they had to traverse from a wide range of areas in Connecticut in order to fulfill their nursing curriculum. Originally, Storrs, Hartford, New Haven, Greenwich, Norwich, and Middletown comprised the multiple areas of teaching. In 1975, the Faculty White Papers set a milestone and decided the destiny of the school by setting forth their desire to have Storrs as the location of the entire faculty, student body, and all physical resources. This step, taken by the faculty, not only strengthened the ties between students and faculty, but also centralized the School of Nursing’s curriculum at Storrs.
80s and 90s
Marlene F. Kramer was Dean of the school from 1980 through 1987. During her tenure as Dean, the school expanded its research mission and revised the curricula for undergraduate and graduate programs. Also under her leadership, the Alumni Association became an important force in the life of the school.
Beverly Koerner was Dean from 1988 through 1993, and while in office she helped in the further expansion and dedications for the School of nursing. In 1991, the School of Nursing building, which originally housed the university’s first infirmary, was renamed the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Building in honor of the school’s first dean. In the same year, the School’s Center for Nursing Research was founded and the university acquired the professional book collection of renowned nurse leader, Virginia A. Henderson, thereby enhancing the research resources for both students and faculty.
In 1992, the school’s 50th anniversary was further marked by the dedication of a room in Storrs Hall honoring Josephine A. Dolan, Professor Emeritus and renowned nurse historian, who had been a School of Nursing faculty member for 35 years. Three years later she donated a valuable collection of papers which created the core for a designated history of nursing collection in the new Dodd Research Center.
Barbara Redman served as dean from 1995 through 1998, followed by Dean Laura Dzurec from 2001 to 2006, then Dean Anne R. Bavier from 2007 to 2011. Each dean continued to add to the growing environment at the University of Connecticut by improving the curriculum, supporting research, and continuing a tradition of excellence.
The history of the UConn School of Nursing is evolving daily as new techniques, faculty, and research findings enhance the student’s ability to render care to each patient. From meager beginnings, the school has drastically expanded into the powerhouse of institutional training it is today. Every faculty member, alumni, and student body have contributed to the establishment of one of the nation’s top nursing schools, and the continuation of these members work will add further insight and accomplishments to the long list held at the University of Connecticut.
Buildings and Archives
The Carolyn Ladd Widmer building, named in honor of the School of Nursing’s first dean, was demolished in 1996 to make room for a new chemistry building.
Completed in 1919 at a cost of $47,732.42, the Widmer building was the University of Connecticut’s first infirmary. A substantial building, it was built of red brick on a stone foundation with a slate roof and attached wooden porches. It contained an open ward for patients, several private rooms, office space and a large solarium with a fireplace.
Located next to Swan Lake, then called Duck Pond, the infirmary was surrounded by a grove of tall trees until a hurricane destroyed many of them. The original setting was a valuable adjunct to any treatment for ill students that was offered at the time.
The School of Nursing first occupied the Widmer Building, also known as “the cottage,” in 1950 when the present day infirmary was opened. Conversion of the old infirmary’s open ward into a classroom, and the private rooms into offices, made the space suitable for academic purposes.
The new accommodations also provided the expanding school with much appreciated relief after almost a decade of being in confined quarters in the Home Economics building, which is now known as the Design and Resource Management building.
From the mid 1950’s until the 1968-69 academic year, the building was shared with the School of Physical Therapy. Essentially, one wing of the building was assigned to each school. The basement room served as a combined library and conference room, and a small adjoining area contained hydrotherapy facilities and a men’s shower and locker room.