By Lisa M. Maloney | YourYale
Photos by Robert DeSanto. The curators of the exhibition celebrating Yale School of Nursing Centennial; (L-R) Courtney Brombosz, Janene Batten, Melissa Grafe.
An exhibition highlighting the impact and evolution of Yale School of Nursing (YSN) over the last 100 years is on view in the rotunda at the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library in the Yale School of Medicine. The exhibition is part of the YSN centennial celebrations that kicked off in September
. The curators, Janene Batten, Courtney Brombosz, and Melissa Grafe, who are medical history and research and education librarians, wanted to “capture the spirit” of the YSN centennial, focusing on both the past and present.
“The Cushing/Whitney Library is part of the health sciences community here at Yale,” said Grafe, the John R. Bumstead librarian for Medical History and Head of the Medical Historical Library. “We feel it is important to celebrate significant milestones for our schools and departments. With this exhibition and others that we have put on, we contribute to the larger understanding of YSN’s place in history.”
The work begins
In 2021, just as YSN was putting its centennial celebration committee together, Grafe, Brombosz, and Batten began exhibition discussions. They had worked together on a similar project celebrating YSN’s 90th milestone, but both agreed “that much had happened in the last decade.” Besides telling a compelling story, the team was determined to provide a fresh look that included blending growth, history and change within the student body and faculty with examples of YSN’s innovative methods of research and pedagogy.
The curators decided to focus on eight themes: the early years; firsts; education and curriculum; setting the standard in research; diversity, equity, and inclusion; community partnerships; present day and looking forward; and tools of the trade. With each display, they wanted to juxtapose history with what is happening today. “When the school was established, women were still not allowed to attend Yale College. It’s fascinating to see the impact a group of women made at Yale, at a time when the university wasn’t quite ready for women to be here,” said Brombosz.
Into the archives
The team researched and collected a large amount of information covering the eight themes. Their information came primarily from the Manuscripts and Archives at Sterling Memorial Library (SML) and the Medical Historical Library. Equipped with notepads, pencils, and laptops, the curators spent hours in the SML archives. To find information reported early in the school’s history, they looked through YSN alumni newsletters and magazines and the Yale Daily News historical archives. “The work was divvied up based on the themes we each felt comfortable with,” said Grafe. “We put a thoughtful lens on YSN’s early history and highlighted some of the individuals who embody the changing aspects of the school.”
They also culled through online resources for local newspaper clippings, including articles on the successful career of a wartime graduate of Japanese descent and the first male graduate of YSN. During this process, they met weekly to review and discuss what each had uncovered and narrowed down the objects and photos that would best chronicle YSN through the decades.
The curators wanted the exhibition to express the full scope of the school’s impact on the nursing profession and nursing education in the last 100 years. While creating a compact narrative, they also wanted to honor the students, faculty, and alumni who have made a difference in nursing worldwide. “I’m continually amazed by how forward-thinking and revolutionary the YSN leadership and community was and is, and how it continues to be a dynamic and contemporary school that has never stopped evolving,” said Batten. “We hope visitors will realize that YSN is pivotal in the history of nursing education and that we honor those who have walked through these halls.”
While digging through the archival boxes, the team found large amounts of typed or handwritten correspondence, brochures, and photos of everyday life in New Haven. Many of these items were incorporated into the exhibition to make it visually appealing while still providing historical context and articulating the themes. The exhibition is supported by many artifacts – an original 1920s nursing uniform, medical bag and instruments, and historic photos – but the challenge of celebratory exhibitions is deciding what is essential to conveying a story within a limited space.
Once final selections were made, display mockups were laid out, finalized, and photographed, allowing for a smooth installation process. “Our hope is that the alumni, current students, and faculty feel proud of where they are, and that this exhibition gives them a good idea of who came before them and provided them the opportunity to be here today,” said Brombosz.
This piece originally appeared in YourYale
, a university-wide staff publication.