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Aug 31

Educating Nurses in High Point – contributed by Marian Inabinett

Posted on August 31, 2022 at 10:26 AM by Tamara Vaughan

With the beginning of the new Fall Semester this week, High Point University opens its new Department of Nursing Program and welcomes the first students in the program. The Department’s complex, located at the corner of University Parkway and East Lexington Avenue, features a skills lab and simulation suites to train student nurses. This venture in nursing education isn’t High Point’s first: from around 1908 to 1978, nurses trained in the wards of High Point’s hospitals. Here’s a brief, illustrated history of the nursing schools at High Point Memorial Hospital and Guilford General Hospital.

Florence Nightingale is credited with starting the profession of nursing. Her work in the British military hospitals during the Crimean War gained notoriety because the number of wounded soldiers surviving wounds increased drastically under her leadership. The Civil War gave women in the United States the opportunity to put Nightingale’s principles in action as women from all walks of life became nurses to the thousands of wounded and sick soldiers. The war also brought a realization that there were insufficient hospitals and trained medical staff for the healthcare needs of the general population.  

Programs to train nurses began in local hospitals. In 1894, Rex Hospital in Raleigh was the first in North Carolina to start a formal nursing education program. Many other hospitals around the state also opened training schools, and North Carolina was the first state to implement a nursing licensure exam in 1903. 

High Point’s first hospital opened in 1904. Joseph W. Sechrest worked with the local chapter of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, a fraternal organization, to establish a hospital for the growing town. A frame building was constructed on Boulevard Street, near the current intersection with Elm Street. The Junior Order operated the hospital until 1912 when four doctors assumed ownership and incorporated as High Point Hospital. Nurses were already being trained at the hospital, with the first class graduating in 1912: Miss Bessie Wicker, a Miss Dearman, and Mrs. Josephine Bynum McCraney. The 1917 Sanborn map for High Point clearly shows the hospital on Boulevard with a two-story nurses’ dormitory across the street. ( )

According to a history of the nursing school, training was on-the-job, as student nurses helped doctors in the wards and operating rooms. Mrs. McCraney served as the Superintendent of Nurses until 1918, succeeded by a Miss Muse, another graduate. Hazel Johnson, another graduate of the program, became the first Instructor of Nursing in 1927. Typically, student nurses worked 10-hour days, with a half-day off during the week and five hours off on Sundays. They also trained in the operating room. The program lasted three years, and the students were paid a monthly wage. 


Open bookA book used at the Burrus Hospital, later to become High Point Memorial Hospital. Surgical Nursing, Third Edition, by Anna M. Fullerton (P. Blakiston's Son & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1899) was inscribed by Dr. John Tilden Burrus to Miss Nena Hackett on both the front and back flyleaf:  "Miss Nena Hackett / Compliments of / Dr. J. T. B." The book was used around 1930 by Nena Hackett Vinson, who was originally from North Wilkesboro. To see more of the book, find it in our online catalog:

With the onset of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the ongoing epidemic of tuberculosis, a second hospital opened in High Point in the old O.E. Richardson home in the 200 block of East Washington Street. Originally a sanatorium, it became Guilford General Hospital in 1921. Nurses were also being trained here until the 1930s. The nurses' programs in High Point did not admit African American students nor men. 


5 women in white sitting on a lawnGuilford General nursing school graduates in 1927. The women are identified as Ruth Amick, Tillie Ingram, Katherine Lyonne Brown, Ora Fulp, and Jamie Niblock.

High Point Hospital reorganized under a board of trustees with Dr. John T. Burrus as head of the hospital. It was renamed Burrus Memorial Hospital in honor of his parents, though Dr. Burrus died suddenly in 1936. Guilford General and Burrus Memorial merged in 1944, but kept the two campuses in operation until High Point Memorial Hospital opened in 1950. Burrus Memorial operated a “colored ward” for African Americans staffed by African American nurses, but in most communities at the time, African Americans and white patients were served in separate hospitals. The new hospital retained the “colored ward,” and its nursing program continued to admit only white, female student nurses.


12 women in white standing in 2 rowsGraduating nurses in 1952: front row (left to right) Peggy Stephens, Shirley Meadows, Helen Reid, Betty Lovette, Mary Alice Edwards, Charlcie Bonkemeyer; back row (left to right) Maxine Willard, Joyce Burrows, Johnsie Bridgers, Ollie Davenport, Pearl Haley, Pauline Absher. 

two-story brick building World War II and the growing High Point community after the war meant an expansion to the nurses program. By 1954, a combined dormitory and educational building opened on Boulevard near the hospital.

By the 1970s, the nursing school at High Point Memorial Hospital employed full- and part-time instructional staff. The program was 33 months long and some courses counted toward college credit. Tuition was increased in 1972 to $1000 from $450 in 1962, and $100 in 1955. Student nurses living in the dorms also began to pay a residence fee.

By the 1970s, however, nursing schools were transferring away from the hospital-based programs to community colleges and traditional universities in order to provide more degree and certification programs plus specialty training and continuing education. From the nursing school history printed in the last yearbook, with the 1978 class, the nursing school graduated 848 students including one African American woman nurse – Carolyn Walker – and three male nurses – Gerald Estes, Bill Ludwig, and Reggie Jones. It is clear that High Point’s nursing training programs were a point of pride for the community, and the student nurses contributed to the success of the city’s medical institutions for 70 years. 


The Heritage Research Center at the High Point Public Library has made available a number of yearbooks from High Point’s nursing school through the NC Digital Heritage Center. More are due to be added soon. Find those already digitized through these links: 


The Burrusonian (1940-1943)

Caduceus (1946, 1948)

Lighted Lamp (1970s, including the last yearbook in 1978)


Contributed by Marian Inabinett, Curator of Collections at the High Point Museum. Contact her at



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