In Lewiston, the St. Mary’s Hospital was a primary source of health care for Androscoggin County, founded by the “Gray Nuns”, who came to the community from Monreal, Canada, for the purpose of providing social services and a hospital to support Franco-Canadian immigrants and Franco-Americans. Many Franco-American registered nurses were trained in the diploma program at the St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing. In 1888, Lewiston and Auburn were emerging as Maine’s leading manufacturing centers. The shoe and textile industries were flourishing along the Androscoggin River. The migration of the French Canadians, mostly from the Quebec Province, was huge, at times reaching to 100 to 150 arriving each day, at the Grand Trunk Railroad Station on Lincoln Street, in Lewiston. The population had increased to 35,000, but there was no hospital.
This changed in June 1888, when the Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe (also known as the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart) purchased a house on Sabattus Street along with 36 acres of land, all owned by Sarah J. Golder. The Golder house became a 30-bed hospital with an addition that lodged the sisters and 40 orphans. This hospital, the first in Lewiston/Auburn and the first Catholic hospital in Maine became known variously as the Sister’s Hospital, the French Hospital, or the Catholic Hospital. Today, this hospital is the St. Mary’s Health System.
As a nurse and writing on behalf of my colleagues, I found a report published in the Queens, New York news, by journalist Isabelle Bousquette, to be a source of encouragement during this time of pandemic. Grateful for her permission, I have quoted from her article:
National Nurses Week takes place from May 6 to May 12. It’s a week each year to honor the commitment, dedication and hard work of those in the nursing profession. This year, honoring our nurses is more important than ever. They are risking their lives on the front line every day, helping fight the coronavirus pandemic. The American Nurses Association and the World Health Organization have already declared 2020 to be the global “Year of the Nurse.” So this week, take a moment to celebrate nurses in Maine and around the world.
A history of National Nurses Week:
National Nurses Week has been celebrated since 1954. The first National Nurses Week occurred in October and commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimea during the Crimean War. Nightingale (1820-1910) was a famous British nurse who fought to improve conditions for the sick and whose advocacy set the standard for modern nursing today. In 1854, she traveled to the frontline of the Crimean War where she selflessly tended to wounded soldiers.
In 1982, President Reagan declared May 6, as National Recognition Day for Nurses. The American Nurses Association extended that day into a week of celebrations in 1990, culminating on Nightingale’s birthday on May 12.
How to Celebrate National Nurses Week
In the past, this has been a week to honor nurses with banquets, seminars and celebrations. Now, those types of gatherings are impossible at a moment when nurses are most in need of acknowledgement and encouragement. (In fact, a free symposium about Florence Nightingale was postponed. It has been scheduled to be held at Boston University’s Gotlieb Archival and Research Center.)
In my opinion, I recommend sending thank you notes to nurses via letters to the editors of our local newspapers and cards of appreciation mailed to our hospitals.
Boston University’s Gotlieb Archival and Research Center owns the world’s largest collection of nursing history including a collection of personal letters authored by Florence Nightingale.