Shortly after the founding of Newburyport’s Anna Jaques Hospital (1884) — named for the Newbury woman who donated more than $25,000 to its establishment — the hospital’s trustees and medical staff became acutely aware of the need for trained nurses. “A very important factor in the proper working of the hospital must always be the character and efficiency of the nurses employed,” reads the First Report of the Anna Jaques Hospital, 1886. Though the few nurses they had enlisted at the time proved “faithful, gentle and loyal,” the need for more educated and trained nurses became essential.
The trustees decided the only reliable way to meet the need would be to establish a school on-site where nursing students could train, practice and eventually become part of the staff. In the fall of 1888, a gift of $1,000 from Henry Bailey Little enabled the hospital to welcome its first pupils. The women were schooled under the guidance of Margaret McDonald, head nurse. According to Bill Plante’s book “One Hundred Years of History of the Anna Jaques Hospital: 1884 – 1984,” (Anna Jaques Hospital, 1984), the medical staff gave training lectures, and McDonald taught the women general nursing skills, including cooking for special diets. Quarterly exams were administered by the medical staff, assuring that course work met the high standards of the time.
In 1890, the first class of nurses (Sarah F. Wells, Lillian E. Smith and Emma F. Lake) graduated, then applied for and committed to a minimum two-year stint at the hospital. The school prospered for nearly 50 years, but costs to maintain it in accordance with national standards eventually became too high, and the 47th and final class of nurses received their certificates of completion in 1937. In all, Anna Jaques Hospital School of Nursing graduated 227 nurses.