Founder Helen Scott Hay
Reflections, Summer 2012
Helen Scott Kay, Founder, West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses, 1869-1932
Call to Duty
Helen Scott Hay, the architect and founder of the West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses, was an educator, innovator, leader, military veteran, world figure, and one of America’s most decorated nurses.
“I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions which bring results.”
– Florence Nightingale
Born in Savanna, Illinois in 1869, Helen Scott Hay graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Northwestern University in 1893 and performed post-graduate coursework in psychology at the University of Chicago before enrolling in the Illinois Training School for Nurses (ITSN) and attending clinical training at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Hay graduated from ITSN in 1895, and served as its superintendent from 1906 until 1912.
In 1910, Helen Scott Hay served as a member of the State Board of Nurse Examiners. She was also active in national organizations of nursing and in the American Red Cross. Following her tenure at ITSN, Hay attended a meeting to form the Illinois State Association of Graduate Nurses, later known as the Illinois State Nursing Association, helping to create a Central Directory of Nurses and promoting the nursing profession worldwide.
In 1911, a group of physicians from the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park and Austin felt the community needed adequate hospital facilities so they decided to do something about it. The first meeting of the West Suburban Hospital Association was held on May 15, 1911. Under the leadership of Dr. Charles E. Humiston, an Austin physician and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, the cornerstone for the West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses was laid on April 12, 1912. The next step was to hire a superintendent.
Following her resignation from the ITSN in 1912, and having returned from an overseas sabbatical after eighteen months, Helen Scott Hay was offered the position of superintendent with West Suburban Hospital. She would apply her foreign training in other cultures, her experience in working toward a uniform curriculum in nursing, as well as her experience in private-duty nursing to organizing the new training school.
West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses
She worked for the hospital for five months, beginning in February 1914. Hay became the first superintendent, responsible for both the organization of the hospital and the school for nurses, assisted by Lyda Anderson, another ITSN graduate. Helen Scott Hay served as the superintendent during construction of the new facility, which was designed by renowned Prairie School architect E. E. Roberts. On January 5, 1914, Hay made a report to the directors about her progress in furnishing nurses and a working force for the hospital. Everything was going according to plan.
The West Suburban Hospital School for Nurses was officially opened as a training school on February 17, 1914, following the opening of the hospital that same month. The School for Nurses was provided for in the hospital charter: “The object for which it is formed: to establish and maintain a hospital and dispensary for the care of the sick and injured, to provide educational facilities to medical students, to establish and maintain a training school for nurses.”
The new training school was created in affiliation with the Illinois Training School in Chicago, which would provide the nurses who staffed the hospital in 1914. In A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses 1880-1929, Grace Fay Schryver wrote, “This well-managed private hospital afforded excellent opportunities for private duty experience and nurses continued to be sent (from ITS) until 1918.”
During the hospital’s formation several women organized an auxiliary to assist the hospital with its initial goals. These included providing free bed care for the needy, working with the Red Cross during World War I, and offering patient services. The minutes of the March 31, 1914 meeting of the Women’s Auxiliary of West Suburban Hospital stated, “Miss Hay, superintendent of the hospital, was asked to speak of some ways in which the auxiliary could help West Suburban Hospital.”
Hay mapped out two strategies by which the ladies could help. “In correcting harmful gossip and in speaking a good word for and giving out the policy of the training school for nurses.”
The Women’s Auxiliary organized committees to collect rags for bandaging until suitable linens could be procured by the hospital, provide free beds to needy patients and create a library for nursing students. The group also orchestrated efforts to furnish amenities for a Home for Nurses, and in later years hosted opera fundraisers at the local high school.
At about the same time Helen Scott Hay was supervising the construction of West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses, Queen Eleanora of Bulgaria was requesting assistance from the American Red Cross national committee in forming a training school for nurses to improve methods of home hygiene and care of the sick, and to raise the caliber and status of nurses in that country. This program of nursing education would become a first link for the American Red Cross in the development of foreign nursing.
“To Hay fell the responsibility of harmonizing the aims and ambitions of 126 nurses from 12 states …”
– Grace Fay Schryver, Author
A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses 1880-1929
As an active member of several national nursing organizations, and particularly the American Red Cross, Helen Scott Hay’s reputation and her relationship with Jane Delano, famed director of the American Red Cross Nursing Service, may have been the primary reasons she was named director of nursing personnel for the Bulgarian project. This led to Hay resigning from her position as superintendent of the West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses in July 1914, five months after the school opened. However, when war broke out in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on July 28, 1914, Delano asked Hay to serve instead as superintendent in charge of training American nurses on their way overseas as part of the first Mercy Mission.
That summer, Helen Scott Hay and Jane Delano chose volunteers for the 10 overseas units (12 nurses in each unit) from different training schools around the country to provide relief efforts in Europe. Three doctors per unit would accompany them. “To her fell the responsibility of harmonizing the aims and ambitions of 126 nurses from 12 states,” wrote Grace Fay Schryver in A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses 1880-1929.
On September 12, 1914, just six months after completing her work in organizing the West Suburban Hospital and the School for Nurses, Helen Scott Hay set sail on the relief ship USS Red Cross. Down the Hudson and out to sea to the strains of The Star-Spangled Banner, the red and white Mercy Ship was launched, laden with medical supplies and provisions. The volunteer nurses and doctors aboard the ship were bound for Falmouth, England, where they would disperse for parts of Central Europe.
Onboard the ship the nurses spent their days learning what they would need to become members of emergency response teams. Attitudes of sympathy and discipline were emphasized. Surgeons conducted lectures on all medical topics, there was time for bandaging technique, and prayers were conducted by Miss Hay each day. Classes in French and German, exercise, and general discussion periods were held as well.
One of the volunteers on the Mercy Ship was ITSN graduate Lyda Anderson, the nurse who had assisted Hay during the construction of the West Suburban Hospital and School for Nurses.
According to Grace Fay Schryver in A History of the Illinois Training School for Nurses 1880-1929, Anderson stated, “Miss Hay, through extensive travel, had gained an understanding of conditions in foreign lands, and as an educator and hospital executive had learned to understand and appreciate the nursing groups of our many schools, with their various systems and standards.”
“Miss Hay, through extensive travel, had gained an understanding of conditions in foreign lands, and as an educator and hospital executive had learned to understand and appreciate the nursing groups of our many schools, with their various systems and standards.”
– Grace Fay Schryver, Author
A History of the Illinois Traning School for Nurses 1880-1929
One of Hay’s former students, Malinde Havey, who was director of the Public Health Nursing Service for the American Red Cross, said of her, “No evening was more profitably spent than one in conversation with her. She spent time with all manner of topics, including Material Medico, novels, poetry, music (her favorite), and law.”
Between Austria, France and the Balkans, the nurses, or “Sisters,” would comfort the sick and injured in chateaus, palaces and homes, turned hospitals. Another nurse on the Mercy Mission, Hay’s friend Lucy Minnigerode, wrote that Hay “… endured untold suffering with patience and courage.”
In 1915, Helen Scott Hay traveled to St. Petersburg where she was received by Marie Freodorovna, mother of Czar Nicholas II. Stationed in Kiev for two years, Hay comforted and cared for the Russian soldiers.
A highlight of Hay’s experience in that country was meeting the “Czar of all the Russias.” At the Polytechnic Institute (which had been turned into a hospital), where Hay was posted, the doctors and nurses were invited to board sleighs to travel to the train station to see off Czar Nicholas II. At the station, Hay observed a decorative assembly of prominent guests while awaiting the Czar’s arrival. By all accounts, it seemed to Hay the Americans were highly regarded by the English and Russians as a constant joy and comfort. She wrote, “The Czar’s face lit up when he saw them, and was friendly and attentive to the Americans as he spoke with her (Hay), and thanked them.
Helen Scott Hay visited Queen Eleanora, and worked with nurses whom the Queen had sent to the U.S. to learn the American system. The demonstrations Hay gave in nursing education and the public health nursing field created a desire for American methods.
Eventually, Helen Scott Hay would become known nationally and internationally for her work creating child welfare units, and paving the way for the formation of modern nursing schools throughout most of Central Europe in preparation for the eventual withdrawal of the American Red Cross.
“No evening was more profitably spent than one in conversation with her (Hay). She spent time with all manner of topics, including Material Medica, novels, poetry, music (her favorite), and law.”
– Malinde Havey, who was director of the
Public Health Nursing Service for the American Red Cross
A report in the American Journal of Nursing stated, “Miss Hay was decorated in 1915 by the Russian Government with the Gold Cross of Saint Anne, and the King of Bulgaria bestowed upon her the Decoration of the Bulgarian Royal Red Cross, in recognition of ‘splendid service done in the fulfillment of her profession.”‘
There and Back Again
After returning home in 1917, Helen Scott Hay served as director of the Bureau of Women’s Instruction, Home Hygiene and Care of the Sick under Jane Delano at National Red Cross Headquarters in 1918. She then was affiliated with the Surgeon-General’s office, assisting in the organization of the Army School of Nursing.
Just after the signing of the Armistice in October 1918, Hay sailed to Europe as newly appointed Chief Nurse of the Red Cross Commission to the Balkans. And in 1921, she was made director of the American Nursing Service for the American Red Cross in Europe, headquartered in Paris.
Major General Robert U. Patterson, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and chief of the Bureau of Medical Service of the American Red Cross, commended Hay for: “Efficiency, energy, and unfailing optimism,” and said “She met every test with the same quite firmness, tact, and dignity.”
By the end of her Red Cross career, 1922, Helen Scott Hay had received 14 medals and citations, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, the Red Cross award for exceptional service in nursing, and medals from kings and queens of the Balkan countries.
In 1922, Hay returned to the United States and tended to her ill brother, John Hay. In 1923 she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Northwestern University.
Helen Scott Hay passed away on November 25, 1932, at the age of 63, one of the most decorated and honored American nurses in history. She was buried with full military honors at Oakville Cemetery, near Mt. Carroll, IL.
“Hay was commended for: Efficiency, energy, and unfailing optimism, … She met every test with the same quite firmness, tact, and dignity.”
– Major General Robert U. Patterson, Surgeon General of the U.S. Army
and chief of the Bureau of Medical Service of the American Red Cross
- Page 4, Helen Scott Hay (far left), Jane Delano, founder of the-American ed Cross Nursing Service and Major Robert U. Patterson aboard the U.S.S. Red Cross, the first Mercy Ship.
- Page 5, West Suburban Hospital and School for Nurses, circa 1925.
- Page, 6, Prior to their departure to Europe on September 12, 1914, Helen Scott Hay (third from right) and Jane Delano pose with some of the Mercy Mission nurses.
- Page 7, Nurses board a Mercy ship, circa 1914.
- Page 8, First graduating class from the West Suburban Hospital School for Nurses, 1915.
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