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Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing records

Identifier: Collection 267

Scope and Contents

This collection contains a wide variety of documents related to Blodgett School of Nursing (UBA Training School for Nurses, Marion Louise Withey Training School for Nurses, BMH School of Nursing, BMMC School of Nursing).

Materials cover the full century of the school's existence, from 1886 to 1987. While recent materials are more complete, there is also a considerable amount of documentation from the earliest decades of the school's existence. One significant series in this collection is that of photographs, which document graduation, student life, education and training, and historic buildings on the Blodgett Hospital and School of Nursing campuses. Also included are oversized composites of Blodgett graduates. Other substantial aspects of this collection are curriculum planning materials, such as course outlines; publications, including the Alumnae Journal and school bulletins; and numerous clippings, scrapbooks, programs and other historic materials. Smaller series, such as slides, ephemera, realia and the like balance out the collection.

While the vast majority of this collection deals with the school of nursing, a small number of documents are included that relate to Blodgett Hospital itself. Hospital records consist primarily of annual reports and some photographs. In addition, a few materials for ancillary organizations are included with this collection. The addition of relevant materials from other collections has expanded the Blodgett School of Nursing and Hospital Records collection, making it a useful source of information about the training of nurses over a century.


  • 1886-1997


Biographical / Historical

The roots of Grand Rapids' first school of nursing and the second in the state of Michigan go back to 1846, when several women from area churches met in a schoolhouse on Prospect Hill for the purpose of forming a benevolent society, the Female Union Charitable Association, to aid the sick and the destitute in the growing town of Grand Rapids. These philanthropic women founded the Grand Rapids Orphan Asylum in 1857. Their first building was a cottage near the corner of LaGrave and Oakes.

After the Civil War, when work of the society turned to caring for sick and wounded soldiers, the women discontinued the orphanage and opened a home for the aged. In 1866, the association was renamed the Ladies' Union Benevolent Society (UBS). Three years later, the women sold their cottage and Mrs. Mary G. Wood gave the Society a large plot of land on the corner of College Avenue and Lyon Street. The UBS could not yet afford to build on the land, so they rented a small tenement on Fountain Street.

In 1873, the society was reorganized as the Union Benevolent Association (UBA), with a new charter enabling men to become members. The organization began directing its attention to maintaining a home “for the infirm, aged, helpless and homeless” and a general hospital “for those suffering from disease and injury.” Two years later a home was acquired on Bostwick Avenue, which accommodated 25 “inmates”; this building served the association well for several years until its ever-increasing work demanded more spacious quarters.

A home and hospital were built on the property at College and Lyon and opened on February 23, 1886. Later that same year, the UBA board of trustees, prompted by the desire to professionally staff this fully equipped hospital, elected to start a training school for nurses. Marion Louise Withey and Dr. Francis Hillyer sailed to England to consult with Florence Nightingale about patterning a school after the one she had begun in London. At the UBA board meeting on October 4, 1886, it was decided that a school would be tried for three months as an experiment.

The UBA Training School for Nurses opened on November 15, 1886, with a representative of Detroit's Harper Hospital nursing program, the only other hospital in the state which trained nurses, helping to coordinate the program. Six young women enrolled in the school and after 18 months of study, five made the grade as the school's first graduating class in 1888. Upon graduation, these early nurses worked 22 hours a day for a weekly paycheck of $15.

By 1895, with the addition of a new operating room, obstetrics and a children's ward, the UBA's evolution into a full-fledged hospital was official. From then on, charity work for the poor and elderly were taken over by other community organizations, and the UBA's sole function was that of a hospital caring for the sick and injured. In the same year, John Wood Blodgett, Sr., was elected as UBA trustee chairman. Throughout his lifetime, Blodgett donated substantial amounts of property and money to support the hospital.

In 1904, a handsome new Nurses' Lodge was built. The high quality of the UBA's nursing program was already well known—in 1906, only ten years after the doors opened, 174 young women applied for 16 spots in the school.

In 1912 plans for a new hospital were unveiled, and two years later John Blodgett and his wife, Minnie Cumnock Blodgett, donated land and money to build a new UBA hospital of 126 beds between Sherman and Wealthy Streets at Plymouth Road. In 1916 Blodgett Memorial Hospital (BMH) was dedicated in memory of John Blodgett's late mother, Jane “Jennie” Wood Blodgett. At about that time the school was renamed the Marion Louise Withey Training School for Nurses. In 1944 the school finally became the Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

Nurses began receiving additional training outside the school in 1917, when Blodgett affiliated with Grand Rapids Junior College for selected courses taken during the freshman year. Later, in 1933, Calvin College also offered preparatory courses. The 1940s brought World War II and a change in the education requirements for nurses in training. The Cadet Nurse Corps program was designed to provide the war effort with qualified nurses more quickly by offering accelerated training, condensing three years of study into 30 months.

Blodgett Hospital underwent two expansions during the 1950s and 1960s. The 1953 addition made space for 130 beds. An addition in 1963 provided 87 more beds.

The Nurses' Lodge was razed in 1973 to make way for a $27 million building and remodeling project for the hospital. Student nurses were no longer subject to dorm rules, which had become increasingly flexible over the decades, and they were now allowed to choose their own housing and become autonomous. During the mid-1970s some students lived in quarters at Aquinas College, where the school was temporarily housed while the Marion L. Withey Building (formerly the Grand Rapids Clinic, then the Medical Building) was being renovated. The 1970s also brought major curriculum changes.

In October 1975 the hospital became Blodgett Memorial Medical Center (BMMC), reflecting the growing variety of health care facilities, and the name of the school was changed to Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing.

In the spring of 1987, the 99th and last class of nurses graduated from Blodgett's nursing school. The nurses' training was upgraded to a college-degree nursing program with students at Grand Valley State University continuing to do their clinical training at Blodgett Memorial Medical Center.

For more information, see the following publications, located in this collection:

Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing : Centennial, 1886-1986 : a century of caring. BMMC and Grand Valley State University, 1986.

The good cause in which we are engaged : Blodgett Memorial Medical Center : 150 years of caring for the community / Susan B. Lovell. BMMC, 1997.

Biographical note

A few noteworthy individuals contributed considerably to the development of the school of nursing at Blodgett.

Marion Louise Withey (1829-1912), one of the training school's founders, was also a prominent women in the early settlement of Grand Rapids. For 20 years, she was vice president of the Union Benevolent Association. She also met with Florence Nightingale in England before opening the UBA Training School for Nurses, which was renamed for her in 1916.

Ida M. Barrett (1868-1945) devoted many years of her life to Blodgett. A 1892 graduate of the UBA School for Nurses, she became principal of the training school in 1894. In 1901 the offices of principal of the training school and superintendent of the hospital were combined and Barrett was offered this position. She resigned in 1919 because of ill health, but remained active in the Blodgett School of Nursing Alumnae Association, an organization she helped form in 1905.

Mary Anorah Welsh (ca. 1869-1938) was an 1894 graduate of the UBA School of Nursing who volunteered for service in the Spanish-American War. Her tour of duty included a stop in Manila, where she nursed William Howard Taft through an attack of yellow fever. In 1903, Welsh became dietitian at the old UBA Hospital. She was later named assistant superintendent and held that position until 1918 when she resigned to become director of nursing at the University of Michigan. In 1923 she returned to Blodgett to act as superintendent of nursing, a position she held until her retirement in 1932. Welsh held many important positions in local and state nursing groups and was influential in establishing registration for nurses in Michigan.


28.6 Linear Feet (59 boxes plus flat files)

Language of Materials



The Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing Records was a nursing school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The school was founded as the Union Benevolent Association Training School for Nurses in 1886 and operated until 1987. It was also known as the Marion Louise Withey Training School for Nurses and Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. At its closing in 1987 the schools 101 year legacy included a total of 2,674 graduates.

This colletion includes administrative documents, accreditation materials, course information, student life papers, yearbooks, student handbooks, clippings, ephemera and images. Also included are a few records relating to the hospital and to the Blodgett Memorial Hospital Alumnae Association.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Blodgett School of Nursing and unknown.

Accession numbers: 1986.434; 1991.029 (bulk); 1993.008B; 2001.070; 2004.090 ; 00.[0054].1; 00.[3206].3; 00.[2888].1; 00.[5541].1; 00.[2950].1; 00.[2951].1 + others

Related Materials

The GRPL Archives has other collections which include nursing education, hospital or medical information. These include, but are not limited to:

Coll. 034, Kent County Health Department Records

Coll. 081, Mary Free Bed Guild and Hospital Records

Coll. 098, Mercy Central School of Nursing Records

Coll. 124, Select Records of Butterworth Hospital and Nursing School

Coll. 130, Grand Rapids Academy of Medicine Collection (1856-1914)

Coll. 218, Kent County Chapter American Red Cross History. May contain documents pertaining to the few Red Cross materials in this collection (Box 26, Folder 10).

See also:

Coll. 328, Michigan Woman and the Whooping Cough Vaccine : the Pearl Kendrick & Grace Eldering Papers, Katherine Chase Scrapbook,

Several small collections related to local medical staff participating in World War I in Europe

Finding aid for the Blodgett Memorial Medical Center School of Nursing records
including Union Benevolent Association (UBA) Training School for Nurses (1886), Marion Louise Withey Training School for Nurses (1916), Blodgett Memorial Hospital School of Nursing (1944)
R. Mayne
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Rapids History Center Repository

111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids Michigan 49503 USA