Update: Dolan Collection Books, Herrmann Reading Room

The work of many hands this summer has involved making more accessible the Josephine A. Dolan Collection’s books and other published items housed in the Eleanor Krohn Herrmann Reading Room (in the Widmer Wing of Storrs Hall on the UConn Storrs campus).

School of Nursing staff member Lisa Soder and one of her student workers sorted the collection (into three groups, items published before 1900, items published between 1900 and 1940, and items published after 1940 [i.e., during the history of the School]).

Nursing History Collections Archivist Betsy Pittman
Nursing History Collections Archivist Betsy Pittman

University Archivist Betsy Pittman and School of Nursing Librarian Val Banfi then culled the collection in order to determine historical value, relevance, and focus. Many books have been deaccessioned, some sent to UConn’s Archives and Special Collections, others to Babbidge Library.

Nursing Research Librarian Val Banfi
Nursing Research Librarian Val Banfi

The remaining books have been returned to the Herrmann Reading Room’s lower cabinets (along three walls of the room) and organized thematically.

Starting to your left as you enter the room:

Cabinets 1, 2, and 3: Aesthetic Ways of Knowing (art, literature, popular culture, including a complete set of the Cherry Ames novels donated by alumni)

Cabinets 3, 4, 5, and 6: Personal Ways of Knowing (biography, memoir, essays, personal writing, including books by and about Florence Nightingale and Virginia Henderson)

Cabinets 7 and 8: Early Popular Health and Narratives (18th, 19th, and early 20th century)

Cabinets 8 and 9: Nursing Fundamentals

Cabinet 9: Nursing Essentials; Anatomy and Physiology; Medical/Surgical Nursing; Home Care; ENT Care

Cabinet 10: Mental Health Nursing; Public Health Nursing; Professional Issues; Nursing Education

Cabinet 11: History of Medicine (professional, diseases, wellness)

Cabinet 12: Reference Works (handbooks, dictionaries, materia medica guides)

Cabinet 13: Red Cross (history, first-aid, and home care); Wartime Nursing

Cabinet 14: Institutional Histories (e.g., hospitals); Scholarly Books

Cabinet 15: Institutional Histories (e.g., schools of nursing, nursing professional organizations and honor societies)

Cabinet 16: Historiographical References; Surveys of Nursing History

Cabinet 17: Surveys of Nursing History (textbooks)

Cabinet 18: Back Issues of Nursing History Review (published by the American Association for the History of Nursing); Surveys of Nursing History (Goodnow’s and Dolan’s)

The Herrmann Reading Room is secured but faculty can access it using their ID cards. Items in the collection do not circulate and should not be removed from the reading room, which is equipped with a spacious glass-topped table and Connecticut Hitchcock chairs donated by alumni.

Introducing Undergrads to Nursing History

One of the advantages to the UConn School of Nursing of having the Josephine A. Dolan Collection of Nursing History is its ready availability for faculty and students on campus.


Jo Dolan’s and founding dean Carolyn Ladd Widmer’s long-standing commitment to grounding students’ clinical expertise in the knowledge of nursing’s history has been embedded in the curriculum from its inception, with a survey of nursing history.  Once taught as a first-year nursing history and theory course, today it is placed as one of the capstone courses in seniors’ final semester.


But how to make the Dolan Collection accessible in a guided, directed way, especially to undergraduates?


Associate Professor in Residence Thomas Lawrence Long, curator of the Dolan Collection and instructor of the nursing history course (Nursing’s Past as Prologue) met that challenge during the spring 2016 term by assigning each student an artifact, document, photograph or other ephemera from the collection, both items stored in Storrs Hall and those in the University’s Archives and Special Collections.


Early in the semester, students spent one class session examining the object assigned to them using a rubric developed by the American Studies Association Material Culture Caucus, Twenty Questions to Ask an Object.


In addition to seeking answers to questions about nursing’s material culture, students were also prepared to search relevant published literature related to those objects, conducted by Valori Banfi, nursing librarian.


All of this data collection was preliminary to each student writing a blog post on the object assigned to them, which they submitted for a grade.


In the months to come, you will be able to read the product of their work, with two blog posts per week published here.


School’s Out for Summer, But Dolan Collection Work Continues

During the summer Dolan Collection Curator Thomas Lawrence Long, associate professor in residence in the UConn School of Nursing, has lined up nearly a dozen projects to sustain the collection and to make it more accessible.

First up: Sorting, culling, organizing, and cataloging the book collection in the Eleanor Krohn Herrmann Reading Room in the Widmer Wing of Storrs Hall.

Shown here are Lisa Soder, administrative services assistant who supervises student workers, and her student worker Karen Vazquez.

Book review 2

Karen efficiently sorted the hundreds of books into three groups: those published before 1900; those published between 1900 and 1940; and those published after 1940 until the present.

Betsy Pittman, university archivist and the archivist for UConn’s nursing history collections in the Dodd Center, will review the collection to determine which would usefully be acquisitioned by Archives and Special Collections where they would be cataloged, housed, and made available to researchers more readily.

Those that remain in the Herrmann Reading Room will be cataloged later this summer using free online databases provided by LibraryThing and LibraryCat.

New Nursing History Exhibit

A refurbished exhibit case in the entry landing between Storrs Hall and the Widmer Wing celebrates the School of Nursing’s and Connecticut’s connections to the history of nursing.

A new installation in a refurbished display case on the landing between Storrs Hall and the Widmer Wing celebrates the School of Nursing's and Connecticut's connections to nursing history.
A new installation in a refurbished display case on the landing between Storrs Hall and the Widmer Wing celebrates the School of Nursing’s and Connecticut’s connections to nursing history.

Since its founding in 1942 by Dean Carolyn Ladd Widmer, the UConn School of Nursing has sustained the legacy of nursing history. The first full-time faculty member hired by Dean Widmer, Josephine A. Dolan, cultivated an interest in the scholarly study and teaching of nursing history, collecting artifacts, documents and archival materials, and rare books related to the history of nursing and other health professions. Dolan donated her collection to UConn in 1996.

In the years since, the Dolan Collection (housed both here in the School of Nursing and in Archives and Special Collections in UConn’s Dodd Center) has been developed and organized by subsequent curators, including Eleanor Krohn Herrmann, Mary Ann Cordeau, and Jennifer Casavant Telford.

Displayed here are portraits of significant figures in the history of American nursing, including those associated with Connecticut, a shadow box with Connecticut nursing school pins from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries, and a rare book.

Recent acquisitions to the collection (displayed here) include a first edition of Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, published in London in 1859, which was donated by alumna Jane K. Dickinson.

The School of Nursing’s connection to Nightingale runs deep. Dean Widmer’s maternal grandfather, Cyrus Hamlin, was a Congregationalist missionary to the Turkish Ottoman Empire who created a bakery business to support the missionaries. This bakery supplied Nightingale’s hospital at Scutari with its daily bread during the Crimean War.

Dolan Collection exhibits in the atrium of the Storrs Hall Widmer Wing are open to the public seven days a week.

Teaching the Law of Unintended Consequences to First-Year Students

The Law of Unintended Consequences is deeply etched in the history of nursing and other health professions. And teaching first-year nursing students how to critique modern technology can employ nursing history and its artifacts, as Assistant Clinical Professor Lisa-Marie W. Griffiths, MA, MSN, APRN, recently demonstrated to her students in Introduction to Health and the Discipline of Nursing.

Reading an article last winter in the Hartford Courant, “Global Call for the Use of ‘Smart’ Syringes,” Griffiths reflected on the changes in this basic instrument, from the glass syringes she used early in her career in the U.S. Navy in the 1980s, to the disposable plastic syringes commonly in use now, to the new “smart” syringes that self-destruct after one use.

Glass Syringes from the Dolan Collection
Glass Syringes from the Dolan Collection

Older glass syringes could be readily sanitized in an autoclave or even boiling water in order to be reused. Glass syringes can admittedly be fragile but may be reused many times when handled carefully, requiring only the initial investment in the instrument. Disposable plastic syringes may seem like a perfect solution, but they should be replaced after each use, which adds an additional cost to healthcare settings that are often resource constrained in many locations around the world. As a result in developing countries, “disposable” syringes are often reused, but because they cannot be boiled, and bleach is often not available, they are not adequately sanitized.

Assistant Clinical Professor Lisa-Marie Griffiths with Students in NURS 1110
Assistant Clinical Professor Lisa-Marie Griffiths with Students in NURS 1110

The Courant article brought to Griffiths’s attention that “25 percent of the 18 billion medical injections performed worldwide each year are done with dirty needles. Unsafe injections cause as many as 1.7 million new hepatitis B infections annually, 315,000 hepatitis C infections and 33,800 HIV infections” according to the World Health Organization.

Aware of the complexities of global health, Griffiths decided to explore these issues with her first-year students using glass syringes from the Dolan Collection and a plastic syringe of her own.

As she explained to her students, “What will happen to third world needs when syringes are destroyed after one use? There are communities that wash latex gloves and hang them to dry to have ‘clean’ gloves to use. Not enough donated medical supplies arrive for the needs of communities in Haiti and Africa, so people have to make do.” Single-use syringes may be in short supply, preventing administration of life-saving medications. Plastic syringes also create more hazardous waste, which entails both environmental impact and economic costs.

Griffiths showed her students how glass syringes were handled and sterilized. Then she invited them to brainstorm strategies for remedying the unintended consequences of innovative syringes: Advocating for the remanufacturing of glass syringes? Strategic donations of bleach and isopropyl alcohol? Developing a new cleaning product or mechanism?

Professor Griffiths Demonstrates a Syringe from the Dolan Collection
Professor Griffiths Demonstrates a Syringe from the Dolan Collection

Single-use self-destructing syringes are currently pre-loaded for vaccines, but there has been difficulty for optional dose sizes (e.g., 0.5cc to 1.0 cc).

Concluding this class, Griffiths reminded her students, “Nurses need to be involved in all health care innovations and think globally, not just nationally, because what we do in America does affect the world and those in most need.”


Iron Lung Exhibit: Our Alumni Remember

Visitors to the UConn School of Nursing’s Widmer Wing atrium cannot avoid observing the Dolan Collection‘s permanent exhibit of an iron lung, a contraption that looks more like a small submarine than a medical device.

A patient's head lay outside the iron lung. portals on both sides allowed nurses to care for the patient. (Source: Barbara Slater)
A patient’s head lay outside the iron lung. portals on both sides allowed nurses to care for the patient. (Source: Barbara Slater)

Donated by the Veterans Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, the iron lung is technically known as a negative pressure ventilator (fabricated primarily of steel rather than iron). Weighing about 500 pounds the device was used to help patients with compromised lung function to breathe. The patients lay in the airtight container, with only their heads protruding while pressure inside the tank changed to manipulate the lungs into mimicking the mechanics of breathing, its rubber mechanical diaphragm doing what the patients’ diaphragms could not. Alumna Jean Petrov (Class of 1956) recalls manually operating the lever attached to the diaphragm when the electrical power went out.

Iron lungs were often associated with patients who had contracted polio, and some of our alumni from the 1950s were prepared to oversee the around-the-clock care of patients in iron lungs.

Until the introduction of the Salk vaccine in 1957, polio had reached fearsome epidemic status, with children particularly vulnerable (thus it was often called infantile paralysis). As alumna Phyllis Foley (Class of 1962) recalls, “I was a kid during the polio epidemics, and I do remember my mom (a nurse) warning and worrying about all of us, especially in the summer when we would go to the beaches in New York.”

Diaphragm end of the iron lung showing motor, manual lever, and rubber diaphragm (Source: Barbara Slater)
Diaphragm end of the iron lung showing motor, manual lever, and rubber diaphragm (Source: Barbara Slater)

Alumna Peg Hevel (Class of 1956) recalls: “Polio, a word during those years that created body shivers when spoken out loud. The words iron lung sent feelings of dread to the ears of family and friends. Emotions rippled that all was lost.”

For Mary-Lou Faubel Waite Simpson (Class of 1959), simulating the role of an iron lung patient during her nursing education provided her not only with skill but more important with empathy: “I will never forget the day we were required to be the ‘patient’ as our classmates transferred me from a gurney into the iron lung and locked it shut with only my head outside of the unit. Then they turned it on, under our instructor’s supervision, and I vividly remember the panic of not being able to breathe until I finally relaxed and let the ‘lung’ breathe for me. Each time I inadvertently fought the lung, it was very scary; I could not breathe! Eventually I learned to ‘go with the flow’ as the pressure the machine exerted was impossible to overcome. Along with that was the anxiety of not being able to escape the confines of the entrapment; I was locked in and totally dependent on my fellow classmates and instructor to get me out, which gave me absolute empathy for my future patients, mostly polio victims.”

Polio patients were not alone in requiring respiratory assistance, and Lou also recalls a “. . . young Yale student who attempted suicide by overdose. His respirations were so compromised and/or non-existent that he was ‘our’ iron lung patient for 6 weeks. We worked in pairs, one on each side, turning him every two hours, bathing him and providing skin care to prevent breakdown, exercising his limbs within the lung, and feeding him. The iron lung was one of the most memorable learning experiences of my life.”

Joann Griswold (Class of 1954) vividly recalls three patients in iron lungs for whom she cared. One was a four-year-old child: “We accessed her bedding and body through elasticized portholes, and this as I recall intrigued her; she would try to grab our hands. I realized that human contact was exceptionally important with a baby or child, and she certainly showed a positive response to holding my hand, and or my gently rubbing her forehead, and bathing her. Although rest was important, once her fever had subsided, she was able to do gentle exercises within the respirator to retain the musculoskeletal function she had. We had to closely monitor her breathing, because people with this type of polio mainly affecting the respiratory system could die suddenly, and because of her age, there was always a nurse or a student nurse with her. She enjoyed being read to, and with the respirator mirror we could show her pictures, which she also enjoyed. It was important to keep her calm so that her weakened respiratory system would not be further compromised by her crying, shouting, etc. We sang to her, talked, read, drew pictures, told stories.”

Joann also recalls caring for a nurse in her mid-20s: “As a nurse, she knew what was going on, and what her condition meant, that she would never again walk, use her arms, be able to do the things she loved, and very likely thinking about the change in the course her life would take. . . . Her care required one person on each side of the iron lung working through the portholes, freshening her, positioning her frequently to preserve her skin, caring for her IV. Her condition was so serious that we could not pull out her bed to change the sheets; we had to do that through the portholes. To lift an adult or turn one to change a sheet was very difficult, and of course we always worried that we might be adding more discomfort. . . . One day during a storm, the power went out and we had to pump the respirator to keep it functioning until power returned.”

The third patient was a young mother whose positive attitude seemed indefatigable: “She talked and laughed. Every morning she wanted her hair combed just so, and she would indicate which ribbon she wanted in it. Her makeup was applied to her satisfaction as she watched the proceedings in a mirror. Her name was Joan, and she would read because there was a way to position a book, and by holding a straw in her mouth she could use it to turn the pages. Joan spoke happily about her children and delighted in having many pictures of them around her.”

Peg Hevel vividly recalls and wrote a poem about one child for whom she cared:

“During my pediatrics rotation, I took care of a young girl with polio. She spent 24 hours each day in an iron lung. . . . I don’t recall the girl’s name. Memory’s picture is hazy, but I still can see her wan face, brown hair in two braids— one to each side of her face—on a small embroidered pillow from her grandmother. For me, the best way to tell you what I experienced being with this seven year old girl is through a poem.”


Child in an Iron-Lung

Fear with a disease unknown resides

In body darkness it creeps to paralyze

To a child’s question of seven

Mom says, It’s called polio.

Your new bed is an iron-lung, don’t be scared

Strangled crying erupts

Mother’s soft lips kiss forehead, eyes, nose and lips

Hush now,

I’ll always be here.

Questions swirl through this child’s mind

Slowly in halting speech to find

Why am I in this thing?

When do we go home?

Why does it make that swooshing sound?

My voice sounds funny to my ears– why?

Will you hold me now?

Tears slide down this child’s cheek

Hush now,

I’ll always be near.

A mother’s heart skips a beat as she says,

While you’re sick this machine will breathe for you.

Will I be alone when you go to sleep?

No dear,

someone will always be near.

That someone else was a student nurse,


For the rest of my story, I will call this

young child “Amy.”

Each day began with attending to her physical needs

I prayed the touch of my hands would give her comfort

During her routine care, Amy would make up rhymes

like a favorite Dr. Seuss book.

I concentrated on her mental health with

reading books such as: Princess and the Pea, Velveteen Rabbit, Goodnight Moon

and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

I developed a game using crayons to draw circles, lines and dots on paper

Amy directed my drawing by saying,

top of page; center, dot, move right, circle

bottom, line to left— and so on.

When finished, the fun began by saying what our picture was;

sometimes we made up stories.

Her eyes lit up; mouth smiled wide

her musical giggles warmed my heart.

And so, monthly calendar pages fluttered by until

a new month where

Amy went home wearing a leg brace.

Tears of sadness and joy mingled as we all said goodbye.

I watched them walk down the hospital hallway.

Mom, Amy and Dad— hands entwined.

I murmured— Love.

Thank you, Amy, for teaching me that each life has its unique rhythm!

In addition to the vaccine’s eradication of the polio epidemic in the United States, the later development of the positive pressure ventilator that delivers air directly into the respiratory airway came to make the iron lung obsolete. However, nursing care continues to employ both high tech and high touch. The latest sophisticated health technologies still require humane, empathic nursing care.

For more information, see G. Chapman (2015, July 6), From iron lung to independence, O Say Can You See?: Stories from the National Museum of American History, (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution),