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University of Connecticut University Libraries Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center

Wilcox College of Nursing

Renovated Middlesex Hospital
Middletown Hospital ca. 1920

The Wilcox College of Nursing was first established in 1908 under the direction and supervision of the Middlesex Hospital. It was known as the Middlesex Hospital Training School and, although a private institution funded by the hospital, was not for profit.

Admission into the two year, three month program was based upon vacancy. Women had to be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five, and unmarried or widowed. The application packet consisted of an information sheet requiring the applicant's height, weight, and religion, among other questions. The applicant also needed to submit a personal letter, a physician's statement on her health, and a letter from her pastor upholding her moral character. Once admitted, students were required to purchase the standard material and sew their own uniforms (although not their nursing outfit).

Display of Nursing Hats

Student nurses first began a probationary period of two months. If she completed the period satisfactorily and chose to stay, she was required to sign an agreement stating she would complete the rest of her training and would faithfully obey the rules of the school. At this time she was given her nursing outfit and her "cap" during the Capping ceremony.

Student turnover was high during the early years. Students could be discharged based upon misconduct, inefficiency or neglect of duty, but more frequently students left to be married or due to personal or family illness. Illness was quite frequent and in 1913 student nurses were required to be vaccinated for small pox and typhoid fever. Students were expected to obey strict rules including curfew, roll call, visiting hours and studying hours. The official day began at 7:00 am. and duties continued until 7:00 p.m., with a few hours off weekly for church and courting. Men were not allowed in the living areas, which until the construction of Hendley Memorial Hall in 1913, was the top floor of the hospital. A two week vacation was allotted each year, but personal illness beyond those two weeks had to be made up. Rules governing the nurses appearance were also strict. It was not until a board vote in May, 1925 that students were allowed to wear bobbed hair, and not until January 1931 that students were allowed to smoke (although not in their rooms).

Nurses in the children's ward

Although most of their course work and training was done within the Middlesex Hospital, student nurses completed three months of training at the affiliated New York Hospital. Later affiliations were made elsewhere such as in Hartford and with neighboring Weslyan University. In 1909 the program was extended to two and a half years, and again in 1914 to three years.

The first class of three students graduated February 20, 1910. But class size steadily grew due to demand for nurses during World War I, and later during World War II. At many points the demand exceeded the supply, so much so that the Governor of Connecticut almost signed a bill instilling a nursing draft.

The first male student, Anthony Sebastian Nucifora, graduated in 1974. Although males continued to be a part of the school thereafter, their numbers remained in the minority. The first minority woman of color, Beatrice Byrd graduated in 1955. Agendas at many meetings helped to form an open and encouraging policy towards minority students of race and ethnicity, but still did not bring in significant numbers.

Christmas Bazaar

In 1932 the Middlesex Hospital Training School became the Middlesex Hospital School of Nursing, and nine years later became one of three schools in Connecticut and seventy-three in the United States to be accredited by the National League for Nursing. Before full accreditation was given in 1958, the school changed names again to the Middlesex Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

Many of Wilcox's nursing students stayed on to work in the Hospital after graduation. Ona M. Wilcox was only one of them. Graduating in 1925, Miss Wilcox spent almost all of her working life dedicated to her school, first as Night Supervisor, then as Obstetrical Supervisor, then as the Assistant Director of Nursing. Upon completion of her Bachelors degree from Columbia University and a Masters from New York University Miss Wilcox was named Director of the school in 1943. After her retirement in 1970, the school board voted unanimously to change its name to the Ona M. Wilcox School of Nursing.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the school began using funding from outside resources to make improvements to the school's library, classrooms, and living areas. The Helen Fuld Trust Fund became the principle means of acquiring such monies for updating and modernizing the school. Although the cost of attending the school was comparable to other private institutions, the class size was far less. The Ona M. Wilcox School of Nursing was not for profit and depended more and more upon the funding from Middlesex Hospital. In 1992, in hopes of expanding, the School earned full accreditation by the state of Connecticut as a Nursing College and changed the name for the last time to the Ona M. Wilcox College of Nursing. The student nurses completed many Liberal Arts requirements under an affiliation agreement with Middlesex Community College, while plans for further expanding the program were being developed. Lack of space became a key issue and inquiries were made into purchasing a neighboring office building, dependent upon the possibility of State assistance. In 1994, when it became clear that funding would not be allocated for such purposes, the board of directors voted to close the college. Although protests were heard by residents, alumni, and employees, the Middlesex Hospital felt that the cost of operating the college outweighed the benefits. In 1997, after the last class of 68 (day and evening) students completed the program, the Wilcox College of Nursing closed its doors forever.

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