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Clara (nee Graham) Elman, Alumni Profile

More than 4,000 students have graduated from McMaster's nursing programs. Here we meet Clara (nee Graham) Elman, a hospital nurse and ​professor.

Published: February 28, 2020
Written by: Guylaine Spencer

Clara Graham news article

Clara (nee Graham) Elman graduated from nursing at McMaster before the university even had a BScN program. Her career, which included clinical and educational work, spanned the globe.

In an interview with Clara in 2002, she explained that she entered McMaster University in 1941, planning to take a science degree, followed by a nursing program in a hospital school (which was the most common type of nursing education at the time). A couple of years later, though, the university announced a special program called "Arts Course and Nurse's Training", which was first offered in the 1941-1942 term. The experimental programme only lasted 3 years with 8 graduates in total.

Clara switched from science to the "Arts Course and Nurse's Training" program in 1943. “I was in the first class which had about ten students. People forget there was nursing education at Mac before 1946,” she said in the interview.

After graduating with her special BA in 1946, Clara worked at Hamilton General Hospital and gained bedside experience. Eager to expand her education, in 1948 she won a Kellogg’s scholarship to attend Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City. She did her Masters degree there, and returned to Canada where she was hired to teach at the McMaster School of Nursing. She taught in the school from 1949 to 1953.

In 1954, Clara went to Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to work as a surgical instructor at a teaching hospital. “I went because it was a challenge, a way to see the world,” she said. During those years she travelled on her own to Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia. “I met Russell, my husband, in Colombo. He was a Canadian journalist visiting the hospital and he interviewed me. The interview continues to this day!” She met him in February 1959 and they were married in 1960 in Canada. But they were soon off on more journeys around the world. Eventually, the couple returned to Canada and settled in Burlington. Both of them were involved in education, with Clara teaching for a time at the Hamilton General Hospital’s School of Nursing and Russell as the head of the communications program at Mohawk College.

Over the years, the Elmans established endowments at the School of Nursing to fund scholarships and travel awards. Russell died in 2009 and Clara passed away in December 2013. Her will included a bequest to augment the Clara I. Elman Scholarship Fund in support of nursing students at McMaster.

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