Local women aspiring to nursing education in the 1950s-1960s era usually opted for a secular school such as Decatur-Macon County or a Catholic facility like St. John's in Springfield. Those wanting education with a metropolitan flavor traveled to Mercy or St. Ann's in Chicago. All these schools were three year diploma programs affiliated with a specific hospital.
A few local women chose a school not so well known - Jewish Hospital School of Nursing (JHSON) in St. Louis. Jewish was newer than the local options, most of which opened in the late 1800s. JHSON classes started in 1902, and the first cohort of seven graduated in 1905.
Jewish Hospital itself dated from 1902. The driving force was four doctors who devoted their practices to treating the poor. The first facility had just 30 beds. Most of the nursing care was done by students, which was typical for that era. The needs of a expanding caseload quickly triggered a move to a larger building on Kingshighway.
Tuition was reasonable. In the early 1960s, the cost was $1,500 to $2,000 for the three years.
Ten years later, the fees had increased to $4,000. That amount included dorm housing but not food. The rise in costs was driven by several factors, including less free labor provided by students. The National League for Nursing had strict criteria about work hours, and the school gained NLN accreditation in the 1940s.
The second factor had to do with where the teaching took place. In the early 1960s, all classes were on-site. Classrooms and labs were in the basement of the dorm, with a library on the main floor. The teachers were either SON employees, or nurses with a SON-hospital dual appointment. Some physicians taught as well.
After St. Louis Community College-Forrest Park opened in 1967, students took basic science and English classes there during their first year, while accumulating transfer college credits for those courses. Diploma school coursework did not transfer to degree granting institutions. By that time, library services had moved to the college setting as well. When the school held its 70th commencement in 1974, more than 2,000 nurses had graduated.
Former students felt equipped to enter the field right away at graduation, and the school had an excellent first-time NCLEX pass rate. The faculty were good teachers and well-prepared academically themselves.
Like all diploma-granting institutions, the curriculum included medical and surgical nursing, as well as specialty areas such as obstetrics, pediatrics and psychiatric nursing care. Some specialties were taught off-site. In the early 1950s, the program was unique in one way, in that Jewish Hospital SON was more forthright about human sexuality than secular or Catholic schools.
Nineteen-fifties JHSON students were tasked with studying the essays of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud and his pupil, Dr. Wilhelm Stekel. They also read Dr. William Robinson, an early leader in making birth control information available to American women.
NLN "Mobility" exams were a diploma student bugaboo throughout the sixties, but the role of these exams at Jewish changed over the years. In the early sixties, they contributed to the students' grades. Ten years later, the exams no longer had an individual impact unless a student sought articulation with a four year BSN program.
The hospital administration was definitely attuned to the Jewish faith. Nutrition education included kosher diet requirements. A former student remembers there were no holiday decoration in December, and "Merry Christmas" was an unacceptable greeting. The nursing school student body, however, was mostly Christian.
The students' uniforms made it easy to identify them on the units. In the early sixties, students were considered probationers for the first six months. At that point, they were promoted with a capping ceremony. Some students dropped at that point. A few discovered nursing was not for them, while others got into academic difficulty. By the end of the sixties, caps were issued at the start of the program. Throughout the life of the program, the school pin marked graduation and successful completion of all requirements.
Former students recall dorm life as comfortable. Rooms were mostly doubles, with bathroom facilities down the hall. In the late sixties, the dorm had six stories. There was a recreation room on the ground floor, and students could cook in a kitchen area. There was no chapel requirement. Males were not allowed on the dorm floors. A house mother was on duty, and students had to sign in and out of the dorm, with a 10 p.m. curfew on weekdays.
Nevertheless, at times the students were a bit frisky. Late in November of 1969, Director of Nursing Lydia Ryder told parents that 130 students had to move out of the dorm until January of 1970. This was on account of a noisy junior class party that involved champagne and a triggered fire alarm.
When graduation time came, commencement was held in a synagogue. The hospital President presented the diplomas and a rabbi gave the invocation and benediction. The music, however, featured Handel, an aria from Alfred Gaul's "The Holy City", and a closing song with Lutheran origins, "Now Thank We All Our God."
Graduates wrote the licensure exam in Missouri's state capitol, Jefferson City. Unlike today's computer-based licensure exam, testing was pencil-and-paper and took two days. Reciprocity with Illinois was seamless for any nurse coming back to this area to practice.
Jewish SON evolved as nursing education changed. Today the school in St. Louis is known as the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.
Sources: "Jewish Hospital Marks 90th Year," St. Louis Jewish Light, 10/9/1968, p. 7; "Nursing School Comes Long Way Since 1902," St. Louis Jewish Light, 8/24/1974, p. 18 ; "Nursing Students Ousted From Dorm," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/24/1969, p. 10; William J. Robinson, Ed., Sexual Continence, 2nd ed. (Eugenics Publishing Co, New York, 1930), pp. 1-7, 149-204, 205-230 (Edith Lichliter's text contributed by Deb Rubach); Interview with Susan Loy Hoelscher, 5/16/2018; Interview with Frances Schutte Dietrich, 5/31/2018.