Nursing in Birmingham

By Mary Beth Newbill | Southern History Department, Central Library 

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has declared the month of May to be Nurses Month. In years past, the ANA has celebrated National Nurses Week in the second week of May. However, due to the extraordinary circumstances under which many nurses are working this spring, the decision was made to honor nurses for the entire month. While the world’s nurses are working harder than ever to keep us safe and healthy, let’s remember some of the individuals and institutions that broke ground for the nursing profession in Alabama and here in Birmingham.

In the late 19
th and early 20th centuries, the training and education of nurses primarily took place in hospitals. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that collegiate nursing programs became commonplace. In the early days of Birmingham, hospitals and infirmaries were being established and so were their nursing programs. St. Vincent’s Hospital, Hillman Hospital, Carraway, and the South Highlands Infirmary all had training programs for nurses. Graduates were eligible to take the exam given by the State Board of Nurses Examiners either in Alabama or another state and, upon passing, would qualify as a registered nurse.

While each program varied somewhat, all included instruction in such topics as anatomy and physiology, neurology, pediatrics, and pathology to name a few. In 1935, the training program at the South Highlands Infirmary required a grand total of 831 hours of instruction in over two dozen subjects! According to yearbooks for the Carraway Methodist School of Nursing, students came from all parts of Alabama and even from Tennessee and North Carolina. South Highlands Infirmary’s yearbook, The Nightingale, lists students from as far away as Texas and New Jersey among those in the class of 1912.

The first school in Alabama to offer a B.S. in Nursing was Tuskegee University. Dr. Lillian Holland Harvey established the program in 1948 and it quickly gained national attention. In the 1950s and 1960s programs at UAB and Samford University became well established and gradually the hospital-based programs faded away. Thanks to the work of nurse educators like Alabama native Ida Vines Moffet and Pennsylvania born Florence Hixon, nursing programs in Birmingham were thriving.

Today, nurses are needed more than ever before. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for the nursing profession is expected to grow much faster than average (12%) over the next 10 years. Nursing education in Birmingham has a long history and can look forward to an exciting future.

The Southern History Department has a number of interesting books on the history of nursing in Alabama. Follow the links below for more information:


Unknown said…
The TCI Company Hospital (later Lloyd Noland Hospital) also had a nursing schooling the early 20th century.