History of the Babies Hospital Nursery Maid program

The Babies Hospital Nursery Maid Program was founded 1890 by Mrs. Robert W. Chapin, with the purpose of “furnish[ing] systematic training to girls who desire to go out to service to care for infants and young children.” Originally called the Training School for Children’s Nurses, it was renamed the Training School for Nursery Maids in 1892.

The course of instruction encompassed everything someone taking care of a infant would need to know, including: care of milk and bottles; sterilization of milk; general principals of infant feeding; the use of hot, cold, bran and mustard baths; care of the mouth, eyes and ears; nursery hygiene (ventilation, temperature, cleanliness, care of napkins (diapers) etc); toilet training; and the use of assorted fundamentals like the clinical thermometer, the making of poultices and oil-silk jackets, the giving of enemas, gavage feeding, and simple treatments for common nursery emergencies. In 1894 the curriculum was expanded again to include kindergarten instruction, including Froebel finger plays and songs. The basic categories of topics of instruction did not change very much after 1894, though the structure of the course did evolve extensively. Originally four months long, it expanded to six months (1892) to eight months (1898) and, as of 1934, to one full year.

A significant focus of the course was ensuring students had sufficient practical experience in working with very small children. In 1898, the curriculum included a required two week stint in a Model Nursery. In 1907 students spent six months working in the hospital and two months in a private home. In 1910 the schedule was adjusted again, to seven months in the Hospital and one month in a private home. By 1934 the course was one year long, though the annual reports do not indicate how much, if any, of that time was allotted to private homes. Starting in 1936, students were sent to the Sloane Hospital for six weeks of experience in the care of newborns.

Students initially received a stipend of $7 per month during their training, and were expected to be paid a minimum of $20 month after they had graduated. By 1898 the compensation had been adjusted so that the students received $5 a month for the first five months and $12 for the last month, and with the $20 monthly minimum in place for the first six months following graduation; after that they could negotiate their own wages. The first year of private service was a probationary one, and the final pin was withheld until it had been successfully completed. Following the change of the structure of the program in 1907, families paid the Hospital $20 for two probationary months, and then hired the nurse permanently if they deemed her acceptable. In 1941, students were not paid during their education, but did receive free room and board in the hospital.

Initially the course was open to girls age 18-25 and lasted for four months. Between 1895 and 1896 the age range for admittances was changed to 20-30. In the mid-1930s, an additional entrance requirement of a physical was added, in hopes of reducing attrition due to ill health, and as of 1941, the program was open to women aged 18-30 with at least two years of high school. The program was extremely selective; again as of 1941, there were 1500 applicants per year, of which only 17 were accepted.

The program was popular, and graduates were in high demand. Enrollment waxed and waned depending on current events, increasing during prosperous times and falling off during World War I and the early part of the Depression. The training school closed in 1944, when all of the facilities at the Presbyterian Hospital were pressed into service for the war effort, and the pediatrics rotation was a “bottleneck” in the basic nursing course.

In addition to training baby nurses, the program also kept a register of graduates, and assisted them with placements throughout their careers. This register was transferred to the Nursing Bureau of Manhattan and Bronx shortly before the program was terminated, and is not present in the records currently held by Archives and Special Collections.

In 1902 a list of all of the names and addresses of then-living graduates was published in the Babies’ Hospital annual report. Using Google maps, the HSL Archives and Special Collections staff plotted almost all of these names and addresses onto the grid of current-day New York City. (Some of the graduates were recorded only as living in New York; these names were placed arbitrarily in Central Park.) The result is a fascinating glimpse into the demographics of domestic work in turn of the century New York.

In addition to what was expected – a large concentration in eastern Midtown and the Upper East Side, where the hospital was located at the time – a few surprises appeared, such as clusters in Canada and Upstate New York, and two located as far afield as Colorado and California.

Other nursing programs at Babies Hospital

Post-Graduate Course for Trained Nurses

The Babies Hospital began a pediatric nurse training school in 1892, modeled on existing similar hospital nursing schools. As the pediatrics developed as a speciality and demand for services increased, so did the demand for nurses with pediatric training.

The Post-Graduate Course for Trained Nurses began in 1907. The program provided pediatric-specific instruction to nurses who had successfully completed their training elsewhere. The course initially lasted eight months, and students received a salary of $25 per month. The syllabus covered the diseases of children, as well as in the use of the Diet Kitchen, in the modification of milk, and the preparation of infant foods as well as general meals for children. In 1921 the program was shortened to six months, and at some later point shortened to four months; in 1932 it returned to six months. Also in 1932, graduates received instruction at the Virginia Day Nursery and the East Harlem Health Center.

When Babies Hospital moved to the Medical Center in 1929, the nursing service was reorganized to accommodate the absorption of the children’s ward, and the children’s ward nurses, of the Presbyterian Hospital. Additional affiliations with local and regional training (teaching) hospitals were formed in order to secure sufficient graduate floor nurses.

French Hospital Affiliation

In 1915, the Post-Graduate program initiated a series of affiliations with local hospitals. The first partnership, which lasted from 1915 to 1920, was with the French Hospital, then located on West 30the Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in Manhattan.

Training Hospital Affiliation

In the early 1920s, several training (teaching) hospitals affiliated with Babies’ Hospital in order to secure state registration. Participating institutions were A. Barton Hepburn Training Hospital (Ogdensburg, NY) from 1923-1925; Faxton Hospital (Utica, NY) from 1923-1924; House of the Good Samaritan (Watertown, NY) from 1923-1924; St. Luke’s Home and Hospital (Utica, NY) from 1923-1926; Cortland County Hospital (Cortland, NY), 1924-1926 and Staten Island Hospital (Tompkinsville, NY), 1924-1926. Students from these hospitals, who had to have at least 15 months of previous instruction to enroll, participated in a three month course in pediatrics.

Data compiled and historical note written by Jennifer McGillan, Archivist, Archives and Special Collections, March - June 2011