Nurses and Wartime St. Vincent’s Hospital
by Elizabeth Alleva
Editor’s Note: This entry was copied from Researching Greenwich Village History, Companion site to Creating Digital History (NYU GA HIST.2033)
St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village was not just a place of employment for nurses, but it was also a place for education. In 1892, forty-three years after the hospital’s opening, the St. Vincent’s School of Nursing opened its doors to women. The school was first directed by Katherine A. Sanborn. Many graduates from this school continued their work at St. Vincent’s hospital. Other graduates went to work elsewhere in New York City, including the New York Foundling Hospital, another institution directed by the Sisters of Charity. Eventually, in the 1930s, St. Vincent’s School of Nursing began to accept men. This produced even more graduates and more St. Vincent’s educated nurses working in the field.
Soon after, the United States found itself on the brink of war, resulting in a high demand for nurses. St. Vincent’s Hospital was one of the first New York institutions to react to a wartime United States. St. Vincent’s lost many nurses who desired to fulfill their patriotic duty and went overseas to care for the wounded. Those who remained in New York City took part in rationing, and practiced air strike drills. St. Vincent’s nurses also collected blood and plasma during the war, as it became one of the centers for the New York City Blood and Plasma exchange. The hospital became a site for draftee examinations. Over five hundred men were sent to Greenwich Village to be examined by the doctors and nurses at St. Vincent’s.
In 1941, St. Vincent’s and the School of Nursing became a center for the U.S. Nursing Cadet Corps. The U.S. Nursing Cadet Corps was “the nation’s first integrated Uniformed U.S. Service Corps.” The nurses in the Corps were a vital entity on the home front, taking the jobs of their counterparts that were sent to Europe. According to the U.S. Nursing Cadet Corps website, their nurses made up 80% of nursing care in the United States by the end of World War II.
While the U.S. Nursing Cadet Corps was making St. Vincent’s their newest home base, the hospital established their own Volunteer Corps. Mrs. Edmund Borgia Butler, an influential woman involved with the Catholic Board of Charities, brought life to this Volunteer Corps. Mrs. Butler selected the thirty initials members, but by the end 1943, the Corps had over seven hundred members who were working within the hospital, filling any vacant jobs. The Volunteer Corps played an integral part in the continued success of the hospital. The hardships of war did not prevent St. Vincent’s hospital from existing as a functioning institution.
The end of the war marked a great transformation for St. Vincent’s Hospital. The hospital was growing physically with new building projects. It was also expanding its influence with the growing number of nurses that were being educated at its school and working in its wards. St. Vincent’s was no longer considered just a hospital, but rather St. Vincent’s Medical Center. The events of World War II are testament to the great reliance that was placed on not just the men who were fighting the battles, but also the people who were there behind the lines taking care of them. The nurses of St. Vincent’s, as well as other nurses across America, had a significant impact on society and the places that they worked in.
Today neither St. Vincent’s Medical Center or the St. Vincent’s School of Nursing remain open, but their influence and memory is still with the many New Yorkers who walked through their doors in Greenwich Village.
For more information on St. Vincent’s School of Nursing check out their alumnae website.
Other Source: St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, An Illustrated History, 1999.
Digital Source: Researching Greenwich Village History, Companion site to Creating Digital History (NYU GA HIST.2033)
NYU Contributor: Elizabeth Alleva: A brief statement about Ms. Alleva is available at: Researching Greenwich Village History, Companion site to Creating Digital History (NYU GA HIST.2033)