Josephine Dolan, the University of Connecticut’s first nursing instructor and a noted historian in her field, has been inducted posthumously into the American Nurses Association’s Hall of Fame in recognition of her lasting impact on the profession.
Dolan became the UConn School of Nursing’s first instructor in 1944 and taught for more than 35 years, influencing countless students and remaining active in her retirement as a mentor and resource in the profession.
Dolan, who died in 2004 at age 91, was inducted June 16 into the ANA’s Hall of Fame. Her sister-in-law and two of her nieces traveled to Maryland to attend the ceremony, joining UConn School of Nursing interim dean Regina Cusson and others, who say they were inspired by Dolan’s passion for the profession and dedication to her students.
Dolan was also well known for writing Nursing in Society: a Historical Perspective, one of the pre-eminent textbooks used for decades nationwide and in some international nursing schools.
“She was literally my hero,” says Judy Kelly ’73 (NUR), who had considered leaving nursing studies for another field before having a heart-to-heart chat one day with Dolan – a conversation that opened her eyes to the profession’s many opportunities, and led to a fruitful and fulfilling career. “I look back to her and say, ‘Wow, I was so lucky to have had her as my first instructor. She was key to setting me on the path that was right for my life, and I bet she did that for a lot of other students over many, many years,” Kelly says.
Dolan’s influence also went beyond her direct interactions with students and other faculty. She donated thousands of documents, artifacts, and other nursing history items to UConn over the years, and many will soon be on public view in a museum in the School of Nursing’s new Carolyn Ladd Widmer Wing.
“She was an internationally esteemed nurse and author who gave nursing a scholarly and enduring record of its professional heritage and a legitimate basis for tremendous pride in the profession,” says Eleanor Herrmann, professor emerita of nursing who worked with Dolan and is co-curator of the Josephine A. Dolan Collection of Nursing History.
The collection includes vintage nursing supplies and uniforms; letters and other documents chronicling the experiences of Civil War nurse Ella Wolcott; an adjustable “Crosby bed” dating to the 1880s; and a rare mid-1800s home first aid kit with its original directions on how to treat various maladies.
“Dr. Dolan was one of the forerunners in nursing history, both as an author and in the foresight that her collection shows,” says Cusson, the interim dean. “Others have added to it over the years, but her efforts are really what started it and we will always be grateful to her for that.”
Dolan’s former students recall her as firm but compassionate, taking a personal interest in their lives and sharing her love for nursing and its history with them.
“She would bring out these little collector’s items about nursing during classes and tell us about their history, and we were all in awe,” says Lucy LaCava ’62 (NUR). “She made the classes fascinating. She was so passionate about it.”
Dolan received a diploma in 1935 from St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing in Lowell, Mass., and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University in 1942 and 1950, respectively.
She joined UConn’s School of Nursing in 1944 as an instructor and moved through the ranks to full professorship, becoming professor emerita in 1976. She remained active in many statewide and national nursing associations for years after her retirement, and continued to correspond with former students and collect nursing history artifacts until her death in December 2004 in Westborough, Mass.
Dolan was an early pioneer in the movement to record classes on film so they could be replayed for new audiences. She also served on several elected and appointed bodies that included the Connecticut State Board for Examiners of Nursing and the Connecticut Nurses’ Association, which worked with UConn and others to spearhead the Hall of Fame nomination.
Mary Ann Cordeau, who received her Ph.D. in nursing at UConn in 2004, joined Herrmann twice for trips to Dolan’s Massachusetts home a few years before Dolan’s death to help sort and transport nursing history items she wanted to give to UConn.
“It was so special to get to know her, to sit with her, to talk with her and learn from her,” says Cordeau, the collection’s co-curator with Herrmann. “Meeting her was a true honor.”