The Florence Nightingale Pledge

By Nugent, Tom | Michigan History Magazine, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Florence Nightingale Pledge


Nugent, Tom, Michigan History Magazine


It began on a mild spring afternoon 115 years ago, when sixty young women who had just graduated from a brand-new Michigan nursing school stood on the stage of a hospital auditorium and raised their right hands in a solemn oath.

For the first time ever, a class of nursing-school graduates was about to recite what has since become a universally recognized vow of professional service and commitment: The Florence Nightingale Pledge.

Only a few days earlier, the sixty graduates of the "Farrand Training School for Nurses" had completed their studies at the old Harper Hospital, now called Harper University Hospital. As eager and determined students, these young women had spent more than a year living in a dormitory setting at the hospital under the tutelage of Farrand's stern and no-nonsense Lystra E. Gretter, the administrative director of the recently launched nursing program.

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Established in 1883 and then supervised for many years by a forward-thinking Detroit physician of the late nineteenth century, Dr. Jacob S. Farrand, the innovative Harper Hospital nursing-education program soon became a national pioneer in teaching young women science-based medical techniques--along with basic surgical procedures and the practice of pharmacology, which was then in its infancy.

Under the leadership of Farrand and Gretter, the first Harper nursing students were assigned rooms on the hospital's fourth floor, from which they could move freely about the facility in order to help care for patients and also attend "didactic lectures" provided by the physicians each day.

As Michigan historians Frank B. Woodford and Philip P. Mason later noted in their Harper of Detroit: The Origin and Growth of a Great Metropolitan Hospital, the nurses-in-training spent their days learning what was then state-of-the-art medicine. Their quaint-sounding curriculum included, among other things, "dressing wounds, applying blisters, cups and leeches, using the catheter, administering enemas, applying friction, bandaging, making beds, changing draw sheets, moving patients, and preventing bedsores.

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