Oh, the graduates of 1902
We’re the kind
That were always true blue
Their work never shirking,
With no interne’s flirting,
Those nurses of 1902. 

Miss Ida Jane Anderson, Rochester Homeopathic Hospital School of Nursing class of 1902, was the first registered Nurse in New York State. Photo credit: nyheritage.contentdm.oclc.org

Those are the words penned by Ida Jane Anderson in 1902 for her graduating class at the  Rochester Homeopathic Hospital Nurses’ Training School. She would go on to become the first official registered nurse in New York. 

In 1903, the New York State Nurses Association met in Rochester to discuss the Nurse Practice Act that would establish uniform regulation and credentialing for the practice of nursing. 

The meeting drew over a hundred nurses from across the state and featured keynote speaker Susan B. Anthony. Sophia Palmer, the superintendent of the Rochester City Hospital, pitched the idea that nurses who met specific requirements bear the title “registered nurse.” 

New York passed the Nurse Registration Act in May 1903, one of four states that enacted similar laws that year. At the time, nurse training schools were growing in number and classes increasing in size. 

“In 1905, the 56 schools of the state reported 2,765 students; … in 1908, 101 schools reported 3,440 students; in 1909, 109 schools reported 3,281 students; in 1910, 116 schools reported 3,669 students,” according to a 1911 article in the American Journal of Nursing. 

Anderson dedicated decades of her life to nursing – from caring for smallpox patients at Hope Hospital during the 1902 smallpox epidemic, to working as a night supervisor and the second social worker at Rochester Homeopathic Hospital. She donated her uniforms and hospital pins to the hospital’s Alumni Archives. 

Nursing today: It’s time for action 

In Anderson’s time, nursing schools and classes were growing – today, the profession of nursing faces shortages and understaffing and pay inequity between private and public nurse salaries. 

New York nurses are moving out of state or becoming agency nurses seeking higher pay. The state is the eighth highest paying state for registered nurses, but state nurses and PEF member salaries fall short of the average. 

PEF recently held a Nurses Day of Action in Albany, highlighting the hurdles nurses are facing and calling for change. 

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