Clara Ford & The School of Nursing

This week we celebrate the role of nursing in health care and at Henry Ford Hospital.

Henry Ford Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1927

Henry Ford Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1927, courtesy of the Conrad R. Lam Archives.

In previous blog posts, I’ve described the creation of the Henry Ford Medical Group, an idea that Henry Ford moved forward as influenced by meeting with the Mayo brothers.

Many of Henry’s other ideas about health care and the medical practices needed to support Detroit during Henry Ford Hospital’s formative years were directly influenced by his wife, Clara.

Most importantly, Clara was the major advocate of developing excellence in nursing that continues to this day at Henry Ford.

Being a great believer in the caring nature of nursing and its pivotal role in the medical care provided to patients, Clara was the driving force in developing the Henry Ford School of Nursing and Hygiene on the hospital campus.

The school included two new buildings, both designed by renowned architect, Albert Kahn: the 300-room Clara Ford Nurses Home (today’s Clara Ford Pavilion) and the Education Building (now home to the Innovation Institute).

Clara also worked closely with a designer to ensure that both the private rooms and the common areas were outfitted with precision.

Most notably, the parlor of the Clara Ford Nurses Home was elegantly designed with ornate chandeliers.

To get a feel for how magnificent the parlor, take a look at the 1978 film, “The Betsy,” which was filmed, in part, on the first floor of Clara Ford Nurses Home. In addition, the Education Building featured classrooms, a pool, squash courts and a gymnasium with a stage for special events.

In 1925, the School enrolled its first class of 93 students. Two classes were admitted each year, one in January and the other in September. The class size was limited to 100 students.

Women came from all over the U.S., Canada and Europe to attend the prestigious 28-month program. Students accepted into the tuition-free school lived free-of-charge at the Clara Ford Nurses Home.

The school offered rotations in medicine, surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, neurology, psychiatry and the dispensary.

The School’s first director was Katherine G. Kimmick, a graduate of Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, NY, and of the Columbia University Teachers’ College in New York City. With a yearly salary of $7,200, Kimmick was believed to be the highest-paid nurse in the U.S. at the time

No story about the history of the School of Nursing would be complete without mention of Elizabeth Moran, R.N. She joined Henry Ford Hospital in 1934 as the director of the Department of Nursing, and had the reputation of being the most academic-principled nurse at the hospital.

Graduates of the School of Nursing.

1996 graduates of the School of Nursing celebrate at the Masonic Temple.

As Wilma Gandy, who joined the hospital as a ward clerk in 1955 and braved the riots in 1967 to make her way to Henry Ford Hospital for her patients, recalls: “She held her charges to the highest standard.”

“The greatest director that we ever had at the hospital was Miss Moran, and she was tough. But I loved her toughness. She was about your dress code. She would tell you, ‘Well before you go on duty tomorrow, you stop by my office…I want shoes polished, and the shoe strings, you wash them.’ She was really strict, but she was just as strict on the doctors as she was on the housekeep.”

Moran remained in a nursing leadership role at the hospital for nearly 30 years.

The School would graduate more than 5,000 students in its ensuing 71 years of its operation, with its last graduating class in 1996.

Known for its high standards and excellence in education and practice, “Ford grads” were easily recognized by not only their unique caps but their skillful care of patients.

The winners of the 2015 Clara Ford Award for Nursing Excellence, which recognizes registered nurses who embody the vision of Henry Ford Health System and its seven pillars advancing nursing as a profession.

The winners of the 2015 Clara Ford Award for Nursing Excellence, which recognizes registered nurses who embody the vision of Henry Ford Health System and its seven pillars advancing nursing as a profession.

Today we continue to celebrate and honor nursing excellence – as well as recognize Clara Ford for her contributions to nursing – through the Clara Ford Nursing Excellence Award, given each year in May during Nurses Week.

This award recognizes registered nurses who embody the vision of Henry Ford and honors them for their dedication to their patients, the community and the health system. You can read more about the 2015 winners here.

Since 1915, nurses have been a critical part of our health care team at Henry Ford, providing expert care to our patients and incredible support to our health care teams.

As we look back on the incredible nursing history at Henry Ford Hospital this week, we celebrate all of our nurses – past and present.

Their dedication to their profession and patients; the countless and tireless hours they work; their caring and compassion.

To our Henry Ford nurses: you are the heart, soul, and lifeblood of Henry Ford.

From all of us, thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.

If you would like to send your “thanks” or if you have a special message for our nurses, please share it in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Clara Ford & The School of Nursing

  1. I graduated 1951 class of nursing. My father interned 1924. Dr.James A Sinnott.
    I have always been so proud to be associated with HFH…..
    Miss Elizabeth S.Moran, director of Nursing was the best…….
    I remember Drs.Fallis,Knighton,Heldt, Durham,Sladen,Mitchell and so many more.
    Loved every minute I worked there….

  2. SO Proud to be a “Ford Grad”…Class of 1960. Elizabeth Moran was tough, but you knew what the limitations and expectations were…and Ford had HIGH Standards. In Every facet of Medicine. It’s great to carry that in your heart and soul all your life.
    Judy (Drew) Michaels RN

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