Montefiore School of Nursing, Class of 1938

March is Women’s History Month in the United States, and few professions have historically been as closely associated with women as nursing.

Update, April 11, 2019: I made a significant error in the initial version of this post.  When I first searched online for information related to the Montefiore Hospital School of Nursing, the only results I saw were connected to the school of that name in Mount Vernon, New York.  At the time, I decided not to look for information about the individual nurses, thinking I might do that later.  A few days ago I Googled the principal of the school, identified on the photo as M.H. Shellenberger, and was surprised to discover that she worked at the Montefiore Hospital School of Nursing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  You can read about the history of the hospital here and here.  In 1990 it was incorporated into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is why Google didn’t show me any recent results for it.  I accepted the first information I saw because it seemed reasonable.  I should have confirmed it!

In other news, I finally subscribed to a searchable newspaper archive.  I chose, a service of, because I’ve been an Ancestry member for a while and I was curious how user-friendly their newspaper service would be.  So far I like it, and I also found something relevant to this post.  On May 18, 1938, The Pittsburgh Press published a notice about graduation exercises to be held at the nursing school on the following evening.  The notice included the full name of each woman in the graduating class:

Pittsburgh Press clipping (May 1938) 1
Source: The Pittsburgh Press (May 18, 1938).

On the photo, each woman is identified at the bottom by first initial and last name.  I cropped the names from the image at the top of this page, but I captioned the detail images below with each woman’s name, beginning with the back row and moving from left to right.  I’ve added their first names from the newspaper clipping:

1. J. Silver
Julia Silver
2b. M. Garfunkel
Mildred Garfunkel
3. Z. Stich
Zelma Stich
4. H. Petshot
Hilda Petshot
5. E. Hall
Ethel Hall
6. F. Levine
Frances Levine
7. L. Reichard
Lois Reichard
8. M.H. Shellenberger, Principal
Mildred H. Shellenberger, Principal
9. K. Wetherstein
Kathleen Wetherstein
10. F. Rice
Freda Rice
11. E. Spector
Edith Spector


Here’s to nurses!

Montefiore School of Nursing (1938) 2


Page last updated April 12, 2019.


43 thoughts on “Montefiore School of Nursing, Class of 1938

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  1. They do look determined and were probably grateful that they would be employed in 1938. I remember when nurses dressed like that. What would they think today if they knew there were women doctors? And men can be nurses? We have come a long way! I like the way you cropped the photos to give us a close up with a name. Cheers for women!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never seen statistics about men in nursing, but the number of women doctors has fluctuated a great deal over the past 150 years. The 1890s were a high point, and then standardization of curricula at medical schools meant that fewer programs were designed specifically with women’s health in mind, so the number of women earning medical degrees declined dramatically in the early decades of the 20th century. It was the opposite of progress!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know this is showing my age, but I remember the first time I saw a nurse wearing scrubs. My immediate reaction was, I’m supposed to trust my physical well-being to someone who comes to work in her pajamas?!

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I confess Miss Silver, Miss Garfunkel and Miss Stich look very kind to me and I would welcome their smile if I was ill. I’ve always giggled at these pinafore style nursing outfits. They must be secured in a way I cannot see. Most of the time a pinafore made this way will slide annoyingly off the shoulders so as not to be very efficient for nursing. ( I wore pinafores as a little girl.). But I’m certain there is something about it I don’t know. 😂. I can’t help but wonder if any of these young women served overseas or in a war capacity. I so greatly admire the nursing profession and the women who choose to give their lives in this way. A beautiful March tribute to women! Thank you Brad 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Suzanne! I wonder how many lives these young woman touched during the course of their careers. It would be interesting to know where fate took them and whether or not they went overseas. I haven’t tried to find any of them in census records. With only an initial instead of a first name, it might be difficult or impossible. Still, it might be worth a try. Their skills would have been in great demand in the coming years.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. One year before WW2!

    It is a heartening thing to see how long lived are our institutions and how much discipline and work it has taken and takes to create and sustain them. Big important ones and smaller ones. The Montefiore Nursing School still there and still adapting, no doubt.

    Very heartening at this time in the history of our nation!

    Only the principal wears white shoes and white stockings. Different outfit altogether, of course: long sleeves, buttons and what appears to be a coat dress. Perhaps this is still the case?

    So coded an environment that the briefest glance told you who was who.

    Silicon Valley popped into my mind and I began to laugh….Although I have no doubt that they, too, have their coded signifiers of rank and authority!

    So interesting all your photos. Thanks. Sarah

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never been to Silicon Valley, although a good friend of mine went out there and made his fortune in the 1990s. I suspect the dress-coding there is sort of in reverse: the higher you go in the hierarchy, the more casual the attire. But maybe that’s a general California stereotype. Thanks as always for your attention and your thoughts! Brad

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting time to become a nurse – right before WWII.

    A previous commenter said they liked how you showed each woman individually, with their name, and I agree. It makes a person curious to know what happened to each of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, it would be interesting to know about their future, and also about their past. Were they all born in the United States, or did some of them arrive as children in the wave of immigration from Europe after the First World War? Maybe one of their descendants will find this page and let us know (I hope!).

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Does anyone else remember the Sue Barton novels by Helen Dore Boylston? They had some of them at the local library when I was a child (translated into German), and I loved them! “Sue Barton, Student Nurse” came out in 1936. I don’t remember where the training hospital is supposed to be, but “Sue Barton, Visiting Nurse” is set in New York.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. How fun! I hadn’t heard of the books or the author. Apparently the setting for Sue Barton’s training was the Henry Street Settlement in lower Manhattan, founded in 1893 by Lillian Wald. Montefiore School of Nursing (New York) was founded in 1901 as part of Montefiore Hospital (founded 1884). So, the nursing schools were getting started around the same time. The history of medicine and medical care would be a great subject for a blog!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I remember them! Between Sue Barton and Cherry Ames, I never knew which to read first. They were great books, and if I didn’t have the whole set, I had close to it. Of course, I read the Bobbsey Twins books, too. I’m old enough to remember those early copies, with the great covers and artwork.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think I probably discovered the Cherry Ames books at the wrong time in my reading trajectory. I’m glad you enjoyed them! What I remember about the Bobbsey Twins is that my mother was philosophically opposed to them, but darned if I can remember why.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s the most interesting comment I’ve read in a while. The only thing my mother didn’t like about the series was that the thought of having a twin was enticing to me, and I kept nagging for one.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I noticed the comment about those early uniforms seeming stiff and impractical. Perhaps, but they conveyed a certain authority. A story, shortened as much as I can:

    My mother spent weeks in the hospital after falls and breaking both her tibia and fibula. Surgery had to be delayed because of swelling, and then of course there was rehab. She was about 80 or so at the time, and things moved slowly.

    She became irritable and depressed during her weeks in the hospital — who wouldn’t? But one day, after being moved to a new ward, she was confronted by a new nurse. She was older, with black hair swept into a bun, a traditional white uniform, and a nursing cap with those black velvet stripes on it. The nurse said, “Here’s what you’re going to do.” And Mom said, “Yes, ma’am.” After the nurse left the room, my mother said, “Thank goodness I finally have a real nurse.”
    I still laugh when I remember that. It wasn’t a put-down of the younger set, exactly, but it certainly said something about the respect nurses like those in your photo were held.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, your mum must have seen a lot! I sometimes come across British photo postcards taken at Voluntary Aid Detachments or Auxiliary Hospitals during the First World War, but rarely anything from later years. Photo postcards must have gone out of style in the 1930s. People would have sent snapshots tucked into letters instead. Do you have any photos of your mum in her nurse’s uniform? I’m curious what sort of photos were being taken of medical professionals in the UK at that time, if any.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, my Mum had to treat many broken ankles from parachutists, among other things.
        I think I have two photos of her in uniform, but just personal snaps. I do have all her nurse ‘badges’ though.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I love how you added their names beneath their individual photo. I’m particularly inclined towards Hilda Petshot…the combination of her name and no bs expression is fantastic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now that I have their first names, I’ve been doing a little digging on Ancestry to see what I could find. According to her Social Security Index, Hilda Petshot (1916-2001) was born in Pittsburgh and married twice during her life, or at least changed her name twice. In the 1930 Census, both of her parents are listed as having been born in Russia. However, “Russia” before 1917 could have referred to areas in Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania or even Poland. Thanks for your comment, Zoe!

      Liked by 2 people

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