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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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St. Joseph's School of Nursing on Langworthy and Peabody streets was constructed in 1920 and trained hundreds of nurses until 1974. Sketch by Norman Zepeski
NURSING EDUCATION. In 1890 a school of nursing was established by FINLEY HOSPITAL (THE). (1) On January 10, 1900, the first class of four Dubuque trained nurses graduated from the program. The graduates were presented with circular pins somewhat smaller than a half dollar. Around the outer edge in a ring of blue enamel were the words "Finley Hospital Training School" An enamel cross was placed in the center of the gold pin. The reverse of the pin carried the graduate's name and the date. At the time of the graduation, there were two classes in school with a total enrollment of fifteen.

In 1914 members of the Iowa League of Nursing Education met at Finley. Drawn from cities across Iowa, the meeting's agenda covered "matters of interest to the training school" and a general discussion of methods. The organization met bi-annually. (2)

In May 1924, Finley invited the public to an open house of the Lull-Burch Memorial Home, the future home of the nurses. (3) The four-story building was located southeast of the hospital and was constructed in an L-shape.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The Board of Trustees of Finley annually offered a scholarship for advanced training in nursing to the most outstanding graduate in the nursing class. In 1939 the trustees faced the decision of how to award one scholarship to two students who were equal in all respects of scholastic achievement, clinical efficiency, character and personality. The problem was resolved when the scholarship was divided between Miss Virginia Mundell of Cascade and Miss Lenora Wean of Dubuque. (4)

In 1938 due to a surplus of nurses and difficulty in finding enough students to enroll in the program, the school was closed. During its existence, the Finley School of Nursing graduated 333. (5) The situation was reversed with the start of WORLD WAR II. In June 1942, the school reopened and enrollment began immediately with another class started in September. Since the school was operated under the regulations of the Iowa Board of Nursing Examiners, the Finley School entered into an affiliation with the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE. Nurses attended classes at the university in those subjects required by the state board. They also received physical education, dietetics, chemistry and psychology instruction. The entire course load was announced as being somewhat more than was required by student nurses at the University of Iowa. To qualify for admission a student had to be a graduate of an accredited high school. No students in the lower one-third of their graduating class would be considered without additional study and proof of ability.

In September 1977, the Finley Hospital School of Nursing lost its accreditation from the National League of Nursing. In its letter to the hospital, the League cited the need for upgrading and increasing classrooms, formalizing staff development plans, and changes in students' courses. The school regained its status with the League in June 1978.The accreditation was valid until 1986, nearly twice as long as expected. The school was later granted accreditation until 1987 when the last seniors graduated, and the program was ended.

The University of Dubuque continued its nursing education in 1980 with its "Plus Two" BSN Program for Registered Nurses wishing advanced study. Applicants were eligible to receive 60-64 semester hours of credit for their previous nursing education. Classes were offered during the day or at evenings. For Registered Nurses needing continuing education credits, the university offered fifteen hours of workshops offered three times annually. Nurses could also take courses appropriate to their profession for continuing credit. (6)

In 2009 nursing education scholarships were made available through the Finley Health Foundation and the Finley Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. (7)

1950 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
In 1900 a school of nursing was established by MERCY HOSPITAL and organized by Mother Mary Agnes, RSM. In 1903 the nursing education program was lengthened from two to three years. An alumnae association was organized in 1908.
In 1922 a two-story nurses' home was dedicated. Beginning the following year, three classes were admitted annually. Students received board, laundry, lodging and stipends of $5.00 per month after three months probation. The stipend increased to $7.00 during the last two years. In 1935 classrooms and a gymnasium were added to the nurses' home.

The Mercy School of Nursing expanded in 1938 with the addition of the School of Nursing from Clinton. In 1943 the School of Nursing was established as the Division of Nursing of LORAS COLLEGE. The Bachelor of Science degree in nursing education was conferred after the completion of five years while the completion of three years of education led to a certificate in nursing education. Three years of nursing subjects was common to both programs. (8)

Following the disaffiliation with Loras in 1953, courses were purchased from Loras with Mercy graduates being offered credits toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Loras discontinued the supplementary degree program for nurses in 1959, but the purchase of courses continued. In 1964 all arrangements with Loras were discontinued. In the fall of 1965 courses were first accepted from CLARKE COLLEGE, and the nursing program was shortened to three years. Five years later, the program was further shortened to two years.

The last class admitted to the Mercy School of Nursing entered in 1973 when the school had graduated nearly 1600 Registered Nurses. The next year Area One Vocational Technical School assumed all responsibility for the last class. (9) At the time, Mercy officials stated that tax moneys supporting the Area I program would allow interested men and women to pursue their studies at lower cost. It was also stated that funds which had been used to underwrite part of the nursing education program could be used toward patient care. (10) These students received an Associate in Applied Science Degree with a Mercy Medical Center School of Nursing recognition diploma in 1975.

Nurses’ caps at both Finley and Mercy have had a long history. The first Mercy cap, adopted in 1900, was patterned after one worn by Catherine McKinnon, then the director of the school. In 1908 the style of cap made of organdy was changed to a practical washable type then in use by the St. Elizabeth School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. This style, known as "dusting caps," covered all the hair and was considered a sanitary measure. The familiar cone-shaped Mercy cap with the narrow black band was adopted in Dubuque and in other Mercy schools around the United States in 1936.

The history of the Finley cap is similar. In 1897 nursing graduates wore a small cap made of organdy. In 1912 and 1913 the style was changed to the dusting caps of white linen. A third change occurred in 1926 before the adoption of the present style which first appeared in 1947.

In 1979 Clarke College began its nursing education program. In March 1987 accreditation from the National League of Nursing was received by the school. It was announced in 2000 that associate professor Kay Frommelt of Clarke's nursing program had developed a tool was adopted for a study on nurses' nurses attitudes toward death and dying in the United Kingdom. The Frommelt Attitude Toward Care of the Dying Scale, was a specifically designed questionnaire asking participants to rank tbeir responses to thirty questions. The scale assists in measuring the effectiveness of an educational program on nurses' attitudes toward caring for terminally ill patients and their family members. Frommelt tested participant attitudes prior to and after taking courses on living with loss. Although the tool was copyrighted, it was shared with institutions that promised to share their results with her. Frommelt also received a grant from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to attend an End of Life Nursing Education Consortium in California. (11)

In 1988 college officials announced that no freshman nursing applications would be accepted for the 1989 school year. The thirty-six nursing majors currently in the program would be allowed to complete their education in up to three years. Money from the nursing program was to be targeted toward psychology, sociology, and social work programs.

Block used for printing the school seal. Photo courtesy: Joe Jacobsmeier
In November 1990, Clarke officials announced that the nursing program, scheduled to end in the spring, would continue, and that the college would recruit freshmen for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. In making the announcement, college administrators cited the increased demand for highly skilled health care workers. In 1990 Clarke had the only four-year BSN program in Dubuque. A program for registered nurses to obtain a four-year degree and increase their training was being offered by the University of Dubuque. Clarke also announced in 1990 that it planned to continue its Accelerated Adult Degree Program in nursing and would expand its course work in hospice and community health nursing.

The Clarke Program received an on-site evaluation of its program in 2000 by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. (12)

Concern was shown in 2001 about the faculty shortage in nursing education. A national concern, the shortage in Iowa was not considered critical, however 49% of the current staff was planning to retire within the following ten years. Clarke had seven full-time and 5 adjunct faculty members. (13)



1. "Homecoming is Held for Finley Alumnae Group," Telegraph Herald, September 24, 1939, p. 10

2. "Meeting Held at Finley," Telegraph Herald, March 8, 1914, p. 4

3. "Homecoming is Held ..."

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. "Nurses Return to School," Telegraph Herald, July 13, 1980, p. 5

7. "Finley Offers Nursing Education Scholarships," Telegraph Herald, March 6, 1009, p. 14

8. "Loras Offers Nurse Degree," Telegraph Herald, July 29, 1943, p. 14

9. "School of Nursing," Telegraph Herald, November 7, 1973, p. 34

10. "Health Watch," October, 2016, p. 4

11. Hogstrom, Erik. "Prof's Tool Gains Prominence," Telegraph Herald, December 27, 2000, p. 1

12. "Clarke Program Eyed," Telegraph Herald, April 25, 2000, p. 14

13. Hogstrom, Erik. "Numbers of Nursing Faculty 'A Concern," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 2001, p. 25