Charlotte Burgess, PhB, RN, c. 1917



Charlotte Burgess, PhB, RN, c. 1917




Charlotte Burgess, PhB, RN, was the founding superintendent of the University of Nebraska School of Nursing. Her leadership laid the groundwork for the renowned, nationally-accredited College of Nursing we know today.

Born in Vermillion, South Dakota, in 1865, Ms. Burgess attended the University of South Dakota and received her Bachelors of Philosophy degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1892. After graduation, she taught for a few years at Sioux City High School in South Dakota, before pursuing and completing her nursing degree at the Training School for Nurses in Chicago, Illinois, in 1904. Ms. Burgess continued in the nursing field, joining the Illinois Training School where she served as director of nursing education from 1908 to 1914. In 1914, Ms. Burgess enlisted with the American Red Cross Nursing Service during World War I. She served as chief nurse as a member of the Chicago Unit in Kief, Russia, from 1914 to 1915. Returning from service, Ms. Burgess went back to school as a student at the Teachers College, Columbia University.

In 1917, Dean Irving Cutter, MD, at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine was in search of a superintendent for the School for Nursing and the soon-to-be-opened University Hospital. Adelaide Nutting, director of post-graduate nursing at the Teachers College, recommended Charlotte Burgess for the position. Upon arrival on campus, Ms. Burgess was tasked with recruiting faculty and students to the new program as well as staffing the new hospital with trained nurses. Through Ms. Burgess’ initiative, on September 3, 1917, University Hospital was staffed with four post-graduate nurses and the school opened shortly after with Ms. Burgess leading two faculty and 13 students. By the time the first class graduated in 1920, Ms. Burgess led a faculty of seven and a quickly growing student body.

Ms. Burgess’ program was rare for the time in that it offered a curriculum that combined liberal arts and basic nursing education leading to a bachelor’s degree. Based off a standard curriculum developed by the National League for Nursing Education (NLNE), students attending the School of Nursing could earn a nursing diploma in three years and, with an additional two years of schooling, receive a bachelor’s of arts or science. Under Ms. Burgess, students learned in the classroom and in the wards of University Hospital, as they were responsible for all nursing service responsibilities. Under her leadership, seniors acted as head nurses in the hospital, learning to become leaders and educating the students below them. Ms. Burgess’ dedication to nursing education was so focused that the school was one of the original 51 programs utilized by the Committee on Accrediting of the NLNE to determine criteria for national accreditation in 1939.

Ms. Burgess managed all aspects of the School of Nursing, not just education. She is credited with designing the various nursing uniforms and the signature cap that all students wore. Ms. Burgess also helped design the School of Nursing pin. Most importantly, after the residence hall fire of 1920, she helped find the resources to build Conkling Hall, which was the School of Nursing’s home for over 30 years.

Outside of UNMC, Ms. Burgess was very active in local, state, and national nursing education organizations. She helped organize the Nebraska League of Nursing Education in 1920 and served as its president in 1922. Ms. Burgess was appointed to the State Board of Nurse Examiners, serving from 1921-1927. She also served on committees for the district and state nursing associations and attended NLNE conventions regularly. She was also an active member of the Red Cross and Altrusa Club.

Ms. Burgess retired in 1946 after seeing the program through the Great Depression and World War II. She passed away in her family home of Vermillion, South Dakota, in 1949.


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