New Name, Enduring Idea: Nursing School To Christen ‘Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry’

Even though they’re knee-deep in the study of health care, University of Virginia nursing students don’t skimp on history. To gain perspective and context, every undergraduate and graduate student must take at least one nursing history course, where they learn about everything from Florence Nightingale’s work to the infection-halting strategies nurses used during wartime.

And that context proves critical, said Arlene Keeling, director of the School of Nursing’s Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry.

“Our center is the repository for objects and ideas that show nursing’s roots, its past,” said Keeling, Centennial Distinguished Professor of Nursing. “Like any archive, it’s a way to learn where we’ve come from so we can be better informed as we go. There’s nothing else quite like it.”

The center, one of only two nursing history centers in the U.S. and among six worldwide, will be renamed Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. in a ceremony with benefactor Eleanor Bjoring, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and School of Nursing Dean Dorrie Fontaine, along with nursing faculty, students and Bjoring’s family and friends.

Bjoring, a long-time nurse and professor, offered the funding, as well as her name, to the two-decade-old center.– She attended the University of Texas, practiced in the U.S. and abroad, and spent some 19 years as an academic at her alma mater. Always a nurse historian, Bjoring’ssignificant contribution toward the $1.2 million it took to endow the center will further the center’s nursing research and scholarship, its acquisition of new collections and expansion of the study of international and rural nursing.

Part museum, part research center and part high-tech guardian of nurse memorabilia, the center offers a wide swath of artifacts that illustrate nursing’s past. Its drawers, display cabinets and archives host a variety of photographs, personal journals, newspaper clippings and even uniforms and health care paraphernalia, including 1940s glass syringes, medicine cups and a Nightingale Lamp. After a thorough hand-washing, students and professors can pore over documents, peer through acid-free boxes of nurse garb and finger photographs from World Wars I and II.

There is magic in that, Fontaine said.

“There is nothing quite like seeing these stories, up close and personal, from nursing’s past,” she said. “Given that there is precious little saved that documents nurses’ work, what we have here at U.Va. is truly a treasure. We are so lucky to have a place like this, and the financial support from people like Eleanor, and the active scholarship to keep it humming.”

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Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing