By Kris Leonhardt
Seeing an urgent need for a hospital in the city of Marshfield, the Rev. Paul Geyer, priest at St. John’s Catholic Church, appealed to the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. The group, who had come to the United States to save a faltering Midwest hospital, obliged.
After obtaining 10 acres of land on the outskirts of Marshfield, work began on the new medical facility, and in 1890 the Sisters were welcomed to the city.
The Saint Joseph’s institution grew with time and in 1914 began asking fellow religious women living in chastity to train, live, and work in the facility. The school ran privately for approximately four years.
With the country in the midst of World War I and an increased need for nurses, the government enacted an order for all private institutions to opens doors to outside nurses.
In March of 1918, the Sisters announced that they would open training to women of any religious denomination, allowing for “lay” nurses. The program would launch on June 1 of that same year.
The move would begin a three-year program open to women from the age of 19 to 30. In addition, the women were to be unmarried and could not be engaged during the time of training.
Students lived in the nurses’ home, a dedicated building to provide room and board for the women training at the institution. They were chaperoned by a staff of nuns and matrons. The chaperones were to know of the students’ whereabouts at all times.
As the trainees received instruction, they were gradually given responsibilities inside the hospital. Their progression and completion of their education were marked by the type of nursing cap they wore.
Though the training monopolized the lives of the young students, all of them were nearly guaranteed a position upon completion.
In correlation with the growth of Saint Joseph’s Hospital, the need for nurses grew. In 1922 a three-story brick building was built to expand the growing training facility.
In 1941 a 58-room addition was completed on the nurses’ residence, and in the 1950s a 500-seat gym was added.
The Saint Joseph’s School of Nursing welcomed and trained thousands of students until 1988, when it was integrated into the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire programs.
Today, Saint Joseph’s Hospital is part of Ministry Health Care’s 15-hospital network, with institutions throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. The system still operates as a Catholic establishment.
Kris Leonhardt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.