Windsor’s Nursing Education Archives, the CRC and the Media

In Archives, Medical Education, Nursing by Steve Palmer0 Comments

I had a rare day in the limelight recently as the launch of a digital version of the archive of the second Metropolitan School of Nursing (1954-74) got some interest from local media.

For a look at this delightful archive, click here.

The partnership between the University of Windsor History Department and Windsor Regional Hospital seemed to strike a chord.  A big crowd, many of them former students of the school, filled out the lobby of the Met campus in hopes that the archive’s creator, former director of the school, Kathleen Moderwell, might say a few words and she was finally coaxed to the microphone to reflect on the meaning of the school.  Typically self-effacing, she focused our attention on the role of Dorothy Colquhoun, the school’s founding director, her mentor and predecessor.

Still, Kay Moderwell was the star of the show, and the Windsor Star did a nice video and print piece on the event that featured her contribution. As far as I can tell by looking at the web, the story was picked up fairly far and wide by the Star’s sister CanWest publications in other Canadian cities.

Memories abound at digital archive launch for Metropolitan General Hospital School of Nursing   Windsor Star

A relative newcomer, the internet-based, also did a strong, focused piece.

Earlier that morning I had enjoyed the patience of CBC morning show host, Tony Doucette, who managed to get a half decent interview out of me.

And I even managed to keep my French together long enough to get the message across to our region’s francophone population on Radio Canada’s Matins sans frontieres — and actually made the Ontario-wide midday program!

It was a great coming together of different projects that have been percolating for some years as part of the CRC in International Health’s self-imposed mandate to identify, enhance access to and use medical archives in the Windsor region.  The project goes back to 2008, when I was working with then superstar MA student in History, now recently minted Windsor MD, Steve Malone to identify possible sources in this understudied area of local history.  We found a lot of great material that convinced us to put together a “first-pass” historical overview of the history of healthcare in Windsor that concentrated on its consistently innovative, cross-border and tri-cultural characteristics.  You can read that here:

Among the intriguing references that Steve Malone came across in his research was a sub-heading in the Canadian Nursing Association records, located at Library and Archives Canada, “Metroplitan School of Nursing, Windsor”.  The files allowed for the reconstruction of a pioneering and internationally significant episode in the history of nursing education: a demonstration school run by the CNA in association with Windsor’s Metropolitan Hospital between 1947 and 1952.  The school was designed to break the back of the hospital-run nursing schools that dominated nurse training at the time, and show the viability and desirability of scientific and clinical nursing education autonomous from hospital administration and run by qualified nurse educators.

The audaciously experimental school was run by the formidable Nettie Fidler, a Rockefeller Foundation fellow and U of T professor who legendary nursing education doyenne, Kathleen Russell, called one of the ablest nurses in North America (Fidler went on to succeed Russell as Dean of Nursing at U of T).  I was able to turn the research into a series of talks for the Barbara Bates Centre for History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, and for the Essex County Historical Society, among other audiences, and later was very proud to publish the results as a chapter in a truly pioneering and high-profile edited Routledge Handbook on the Global History of Nursing (2014).

The five-year experiment was followed, in 1954, by a second Metropolitan School of Nursing, this time directly sponsored by Windsor’s Metropolitan Hospital, and incorporating many of the features of the demonstration school — in particular, administrative autonomy, a concentration on classroom and clinical instruction, and a two-year program followed by one year of internship at the hospital on reduced salary to “pay back” some of the cost of the education (the “2 +1” program that Windsor’s school pioneered along with Toronto’s Western School of Nursing, and that would become the model for nursing education of the future).

As I poked around for material on that successor school, I was fortunate to encounter Ron Foster, the VP for Public Affairs, then of Metropolitan Hospital (now, following amalgamation of local hospitals, the Metropolitan campus of Windsor Regional Hospital).  Ron, an enlightened visionary as well as a local media legend for his role in the history of CKLW (a radio station with a powerful transmitter that broadcast to a huge swathe of the midwest and helped break acts like the Supremes, Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent), led me to the well-preserved archives of the second Metropolitan School of Nursing, lovingly assembled and annotated in enviable cursive by the former director of the school, Kathleen “Kay” Moderwell.

As soon as I started to look through the four binder volumes I felt that they just had to be made available to a wider public on the web, because they were a visually rich and exquisitely contextualized archive — a kind of extended scrapbook of materials that told the tale of many vectors of the life of the school, from its origins to its two directors and senior staff, from its relations with the hospital administration to the life of its students and their academic and recreational experiences and rituals.  Only one problem: no one knew how to get in touch with Kay Moderwell who, I felt, needed to give her blessing to any digitization project.  In a unique way for an archive, she was really its author.

Ron and I went ahead and started the digitization project, nevertheless, and as a number of students undertook the arduous and delicate task of scanning the archive, I began to work with Art Rhyno, the University of Windsor’s Leddy Library digital archive specialist, to find a suitable format.  As the project crept toward completion, a friend of mine, Anne Dumouchelle, who worked under Kay Moderwell when the latter was Executive Director of the Windsor-Essex Victorian Order of Nursing (Kay’s last professional position), told me that Kay was alive and well and “retired” in Chatham.  In fact she is a rather busy person, involved among other things in a number of very active heritage conservation organizations and projects.

After working with her archive for a number of years, it was a great pleasure to meet Kathleen Moderwell finally and encounter an inspired person with a razor sharp appreciation of the importance of history and the conservation of archival and other heritage material.

It’s all too common to see self-promoters who’ve done little get undue attention, and it was a great feeling to see Kay Moderwell — someone who has made real contributions to society and to history without ever seeking acknowledgement — surrounded by interested reporters and appreciative former students following her aptly chosen and gracious words at the digital launch of her excellent archive.

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