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Nursing history show and tell: Issue 5

Jul 16, 2019
Guylaine Spencer

The McMaster University Faculty of Health Sciences Archives houses several collections, including those of the McMaster School of Nursing. This is one in a series of articles where we’ll be highlighting some of our historic treasures.

Artifacts: Photographs of Henrietta Alderson

Henrietta Alderson with students in lab

Archives photo - Henrietta Alderson teaching anatomy to nursing students, c. 1970s. Courtesy of Health Sciences Archives.

Henrietta Alderson (affectionately known as Henri), was a professor in the McMaster School of Nursing for 28 years. Her life was closely entwined with the school in so many ways.

In 1947, Alderson joined the staff of the newly created School of Nursing.  She was one of three core faculty members along with Alma Reid and Florence Greenaway who developed the undergraduate nursing programme at McMaster. She appears in the 1952 promotional film made about the School of Nursing (see Show and Tell Issue 4).

In addition to teaching, Alderson was keen about documenting the history of the school, and she meticulously prepared scrapbooks of clippings about faculty members and students and the school in general. These historic documents are now kept in the Faculty of Health Sciences Archives. Also, just outside the doors of the Archives, in the Faculty of Health Sciences Library reading room, you’ll find glass cases containing dolls in replicas of the evolving McMaster student nurse uniforms. These uniforms were sewn by Alderson and the dolls were used as displays at various nursing and educational conferences and celebrations over the years.

 Henrietta Alderson with dolls

Photo above: Alderson in 1992 in front of dolls wearing nurse uniforms. The uniforms are replicas of the various uniforms worn by student nurses at McMaster over the years. Courtesy of Health Sciences Archives.

In the hallway of the School of Nursing, the Henrietta Alderson Gallery of Graduates displays photographs of students who graduated from the BScN program since its beginning. You will also find some of her watercolour paintings along the opposite wall.

One of Alderson’s greatest legacies was her book, "Twenty-five years a-growing: the History of the McMaster University School of Nursing", which she wrote after she retired in 1975. A sequel to this book is currently being written and edited by Dr. Janet Landeen.

Alderson died on Christmas Day, 2000, at age 85 but her connection to the school didn’t end there. The Henrietta Alderson Scholarship was established in 2002 in her memory. Two scholarships are available to students in the BScN program who are entering Level II (A Stream) or Level IV (B and C Streams) and, in the judgment of the School of Nursing, have demonstrated exceptional achievement in required science courses.


Daily News story about death of Alderson

Previous history artifacts stories:

1952 film promoting the School of Nursing

Architect’s drawings of the proposed School of Nursing Building

Margaret’s Bible

The Mary Adelaide Nutting academic regalia gown

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