History of the Alumnae Association of the St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing

The Alumnae Association of the St. Luke's Hospital Training School for Nurses was incorporated in 1898 under the laws of New York State with the following objectives: "To promote the interests of the St. Luke's Hospital Training School for nurses, to raise the standard of nursing generally, to cultivate social intercourse among the alumnae of said school, to assist the members of such corporation in obtaining professional employment, to aid them in promoting and protecting their rights and interests, and to provide a fund for the benefit of sick, infirm or disabled nurses, graduates of the said school."

By 1912 the association had established a fund to benefit sick nurses, and for the sum of $15,000, endowed a room in one of the private pavilions of the hospital for ill alumnae. Sixteen years later it endowed a second hospital room for association members only; full payment of $25,000 was made in 1928. Funds were raised through card parties, benefit performances, book sales, dinner dances, and donations from nurses, physicians, grateful patients, and friends of St. Luke's. When the private pavilions, Plant and Scrymser, closed, the endowed rooms were no longer available; however, the association still offers benefit funds to alumnae in need.

Opening a central registry for private duty nurses was both an essential and practical undertaking by the association. In the 1800s, with few telephones available, private duty nurses made the rounds of physicians' offices where they left their cards. When they finished a case they mailed another card to physicians with the word "disengaged" written on it. The hospital maintained a registry of private duty nurses, but by 1897 found it impracticable to continue. Many of the nurses lived in group residences in Manhattan; the medical staff knew where they could be reached. Indeed, at one time the doctors went to the residences and took the nurses to their cases. Moreover, the hospital annually published contact information of graduates doing private duty nursing. That service was discontinued in 1901; shortly thereafter, the physicians found it increasingly burdensome to call on the various residences, and it became glaringly evident that a central registry was needed. The first opened at St. Luke's in 1904, but for the previous three years private duty nurses had no organized help to secure employment. By 1908 the registry had relocated outside the hospital and was self-supporting, having been subsidized by the alumnae association during its first four years.

The association's name was officially changed in 1942 to "The Alumnae Association of the St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing" but the letters "TSN" remained on the graduate pin until the last class graduated in 1974.


Later homecomings, organized and partially funded by the association, were held in 1961, 1965, 1970, 1974, 1988, 1998 and the final such event in 2009. The association regularly sent delegates to nursing and health-related conventions, thus ensuring, at both the state and national level, an ongoing awareness of the strength of the school and the strong commitment of its graduates to improving health care and raising the standards of nursing. Indeed, three St. Luke's alumnae served as presidents of the New York State Nurses Association: Maud Biedermann Jack 01, Mabel Porter Detmold '12 and Evelyn Marjorie Peck '46.

During Evelyn Peck's 1969-1973 term as president of the NYSN Association, Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed into law the 1972 Nurse Practice Act, a first in recognizing nursing as an independent profession. She also held national office in the American Nurses Association.

The alumnae association cared for its own through sick benefit funds, the previously mentioned endowed hospital rooms for alumnae use, scholarships, loans, grants, Christmas boxes to shut-ins and flowers to ill graduates. A memorial service was held each October in the hospital chapel on or about the feast day of St. Luke; alumnae attending the annual Christmas tea or buffet brought gifts for distribution to pediatric patients. At least once a year the association sent clothing to the Frontier Nursing Service, founded in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge '10.

Barbara E. '60 packing baskets of toys donated by alumnae for distribution
to pediatric patients in clinics and the hospital. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Finding itself with a surplus of benevolent funds in 1962, the organization voted to send each member over age 70 a $50 check at Christmas; this policy continued through 2006. Board members sporadically maintained a "pin bank" whereby alumnae or their families donated the graduate pin that was then given to a St. Luke's nurse who had lost her own. Perhaps the strongest contribution of the association was the communication it maintained with alumnae through its Bulletin, at first published quarterly, then three times a year, and mailed to alumnae who were association members. Membership dues were paid yearly.

By the late 1990s many of the objectives stated in the 1898 Articles of Incorporation were no longer feasible. Thus, in 2002, the board adopted the following mission statement: "The mission of the Alumnae Association of the St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing, New York City, (a not-for-profit organization) is to: maintain and preserve our heritage, provide assistance to alumnae members and ensure future support of the field of nursing, and all that it encompasses."

In May of that year the graduates voted unanimously to accept the invitation of the then Foundation of New York State Nurses in Guilderland, New York (now Center for Nursing at the Foundation of New York State Nurses, Inc.), to endow, for $1 million, its education center, to be named The St. Luke's Alumnae Center for Public and Professional Education (CPE).

Front entrance to Center for Nursing of the Foundation of New York
State Nurses, Inc. in Guilderland, NY. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Within a few months the alumnae association moved the school archives and artifacts from storage at St. Luke's to the foundation in Guilderland. Funds to endow the CPE were raised through donations from school alumnae and some St. Luke's physicians; St. Luke's related notepaper and perpetual wall calendars, as well as gold and silver cap charms were sold. In 2007, with a little over half of the $1 million raised the alumnae association contributed the remainder and the endowment was complete. A gala celebration was held at the foundation in September 2007.

Judith T. '60 selling caps, notepaper, calendars, and cap charms to raise funds to endow the
St. Luke's Alumnae Center for Public and Professional Education. (Click photo to enlarge.)

The association published its third and last Roster in 2008, the final chapter in the proud history of the St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing. It includes an overview of the alumnae association, a chronology of the school from 1958 through its closure in 1974 and short biographies of the nearly 1000 graduates who submitted information.

By 2005 in became increasingly clear that the alumnae association could not continue. There had been no influx of new graduates since the school closed in 1974, and although the annual meetings, memorial services and Christmas gatherings were still held, attendance was sparse. Recruiting board members and committee volunteers was arduous, but not to do so was a violation of the bylaws. It was agreed that through the CPE the association could fulfill its 2002 mission statement; therefore, once its fiscal affairs were in order, the association would dissolve.

It was several years, however, before the actual dissolution occurred. The convoluted system by which some major financial assets had been established were only resolved with time, patience and court approval. In the meantime, a legally authorized board of directors remained in place.

The 120th alumnae anniversary reunion was held on May 9, 2009. Hundreds of graduates celebrated in the facilities at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; the day's festivities ended with class photos on the cathedral steps, a processional and Evensong followed by a cocktail hour and a gala dinner in the Cathedral nave.

Evensong at Homecoming 2009 brought memories of Evensong in the
hospital chapel every weekday during probationary period. The Cathedral service
climaxed with the playing of the glorious, world-famous state trumpets,
as thrilling then as at class graduations. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Round tables were set with blue cloths, white napkins and the iconic red roses as centerpieces. Each attendee left with a rose.

The colors of the tablecloths, napkins and flowers symbolize the school uniform
and the corsage of red roses each graduating senior wore at graduation in the Cathedral.
The delicate gold chairs could be equated to the graduate pin, also worn at the ceremony.
(Click photo to enlarge.)

While various scholarships are granted through the CPE, the alumnae association continues to directly support the Mary Breckinridge Scholarship and Nurse Educator Scholarship through its Benefit Fund. Assets from the fund enable the alumnae association to support the above scholarships as well as to aid its own nurses in need of financial assistance.

The Breckinridge scholarship honors Mary Breckinridge '10, nurse-midwife and founder of the Frontier Nursing Service in rural Kentucky in 1925. Breckinridge also established Frontier Nursing University in Hyden Kentucky (as of 2020 relocated to Versailles, Kentucky). Mary Breckinridge is inarguably the most prominent St. Luke's alumna.

Mary Breckinridge in the riding uniform of the Frontier Nursing Service. The FNS brought
medical services to remote areas of Hayden, Kentucky by horseback. (Click photo to enlarge.)

The Mary Breckinridge stamp, issued on November 9, 1998,
was one of the first stamps with self-adhesive backing.
Breckinridge was inducted into the American Nurses
Association Hall of Fame and the National Women's
Hall of Fame. (Click photo to enlarge.)