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Students in an art conservation class at the University of Delaware are
helping to catalog and preserve mid-century nursing artifacts.
Sometimes a shoebox is just a box that
holds shoes, and sometimes its a place to store memorabilia long after
the shoes are gone.
But sometimes a shoebox offers up both shoes and memories.
When Karissa Muratore, an art conservation major at the University of Delaware,
received an old shoebox in a class on the care and preservation of
cultural property, she opened it and found the pair of white nursing
oxfords, size 6AA, indicated on the label. The shoes, from a company
called The Clinic Shoe, provided her with a glimpse into the attire of
the profession five decades ago.
But what she found at the bottom of the box a metal pin and a paper
nursing license opened the door for her to learn more about the woman
who had worn the shoes decades ago, Mrs. Mary Ellen Thomas Wix.
Further research led Muratore to Wixs 2012 obituary, where she
discovered that the former owner of the now-dingy oxfords was born and
raised in Harrington, Delaware, and that she had graduated from the
Delaware Hospital School of Nursing, now Christiana Care, in 1954.
The shoe project was part of a collaboration with UDs School of Nursing, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
With the anniversary approaching, Anne DeCaire, recruitment officer in the School of Nursing,
watched as her office began to fill up with memorabilia, including
uniforms, hats, pins, photos, slides, documents and medical instruments.
We decided to strategically catalog, digitize, and preserve these
historic items for the next 100 years of nursing, DeCaire says.
She and business student Kelsey Maloney, who is helping to plan the
anniversary events, reached out to Vicki Cassman and Joelle Wickens in
the Department of Art Conservation for help. Wickens incorporated the nursing projects into the requirements for the ARTC 302 class this spring.
We can teach the course from a theoretical perspective, but working
with these artifacts made it so much better for the students, Wickens
says. When we do it this way, its a much stronger educational
opportunity, and it gives the School of Nursing information they can
Boxes inside boxes
On April 23, the nine students in the class shared the stories of the
artifacts they had been given to research. The presentations included
the history and current condition of the objects as well as the
students recommendations for future handling, storage, and display.
Muratore wasnt the only one with a box full of stories.
Sophie Coco received a pair of white leather nursing shoes in a box
that originally held a pair of casual shoes made by a different
Were recommending that the shoes and the box be kept together as
one donation, Coco said. The box is from the same time period as the
shoes, so it offers a historical context for the objects.
That box also held a Sprague stethoscope, patented in 1926, which was researched and presented by Yan Ling Choi.
Laura Campbell worked on what she called the box of wonders, which
contained layer upon layer of nursing hats, hairnets, scrub caps, and
special bobby pins to hold them in place. The box was from Kays Caps, which was launched in Troy, New York, in 1948 and is still in business today.
Jackie Espositos box, fittingly marked with the label of a store
called Things Remembered, was filled with yet more boxes, all
containing slides and film from the 1960s and 70s. One set of slides,
used in a 1972 lecture on the history of nursing at UD, displayed
enrollment data from the era.
These materials provide a unique opportunity for display and
research, but in order to use them for this purpose, we need to protect
them against agents of deterioration, Esposito said. They cant be
exhibited in their current form, so I recommend digitizing them.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
The School of Nursing, preparing for its 50th anniversay, amassed a collection of artifacts including mid-century uniforms.
Nursing uniforms across the decades also have stories to tell.
Emma Vitello worked with a dress in a filmy synthetic fabric that
suggested the item might have been a surgical or quarantine overgarment.
The fitted dress mirrored the style of 1940s fashions.
Heather Coiner-Fernandez researched a white nursing uniform with a
blue-and-white-striped bib and trim that also belonged to Wix, the owner
of the white oxfords in Muratores box.
The red and black cape given to Gabrielle Dawley would have been worn
over a uniform when the nurse went to and from her job. The cape was
adorned with a pin from Wixs alma mater, the Delaware Hospital School
The caps, pins, and uniforms all told the story of where a nurse
earned her degree, where she worked, or in some cases, her military
And the uniforms themselves showed the evolution from the 1800s, when
nurses wore dresses in the style of the day with just an apron for
cleanliness and a hat to denote their profession, to the purely
practical blue and green scrubs worn by both male and female nurses
today. In between, in the middle of the 20th century, the uniforms, as
shown in the three pieces shared by the student conservators, were a
blend of fashion and practicality.
Caps for sale
Brianna Connaghans artifact, a scrapbook from the 1990s, depicted
newspaper clippings, photographs, and brochures collected to commemorate
the School of Nursings 30th anniversary in 1996.
Although she was gratified to learn about the legacy of nursing at UD
from her work on the album, she was also excited to hear about Kays
Caps from Campbells presentation.
I have a friend whos a nursing major in the Class of 2016, she said. Im going to order her a hat for a graduation present.