Practicing blood-pressure measurement in a nursing arts class, ca. 1930s

Demonstrating blood pressure measurement in a nursing arts class, circa the 1930s.

‘Passion in the Profession’: The Cornell School of Nursing 

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By Joe Wilensky

For several decades in the mid-20th century, a distinct cadre of Cornell women undergraduates lived together in an elegant 16-story residence on the far east side of Manhattan. Befitting the era, the building included a formal dining room and shared sitting rooms.

It also had its own infirmary and was located near the University’s medical college and its affiliated teaching hospital—for this was the student residence of the Cornell School of Nursing, then one of the top such programs in the country.

Postcard view of the nurses’ residence on York Avenue in NYC
A postcard view of the nurses’ residence on York Avenue.

In operation from 1942–79, the school combined three years of education, hospital training, and hands-on experience at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine (as the institutions are now known) on top of two years of prior academic study, granting a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“We had wonderful instructors and clinical experiences,” says program alum Stasi Lubansky ’78. “And we were exposed to a lot of things nurses could do, from public health to primary care to sports medicine.”

In total, the school granted more than 2,600 bachelor’s degrees, with the final class of 98 nurses receiving their diplomas more than 40 years ago.

Its graduates include many who had long and varied careers, including pursuing advanced degrees, conducting research, and taking leading roles in nursing education nationwide.

The school’s alumni remain a passionate and dedicated group—staying connected, publishing newsletters, and holding an annual Alumni Day.

Though the youngest alums are now in their late 60s, many remain active in their fields, and hundreds are involved in their alumni association, which holds reunions, hosts speakers, and gives out awards to recognize their members’ achievements.

Commencement for the Class of 1961
Commencement, Class of 1961.

“We had a desire to stay together as Cornell graduates,” recalls Grace Allman Burke ’64, “so that we could reflect together on our days in New York City, which were wonderful, as well as to learn about how our experience impacted and informed our lives today.”

Burke’s alma mater traces its roots to one of the oldest such programs in the country: the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses, established in the 19th century.

(Its distinguished early graduates include Lillian Wald, founder of the Henry Street Settlement and the Visiting Nurse Service, and Clara Weeks-Shaw, who wrote the first textbook by an American nurse.)

Students at work at a nurses' station at a hospital, 1970
Working at a hospital nurses’ station in 1970.

The school became an official University unit in 1942; admission required two years of previous college credit, either from Cornell or another institution.

It was a three-year, industry-leading program, tied both to a major university and to an esteemed teaching hospital.

Graduates received a BS in nursing from Cornell (and, at least through the ’40s and ’50s, a nursing diploma from New York Hospital was also awarded).

“The instructors were very forward-looking,” Burke says. “They told us, ‘There are so many avenues you can explore. Look around; see what you love and what your passion in the profession is.’”

Burke went on to earn a master’s degree in nursing and nurse-midwifery from Columbia, delivering more than 4,000 babies over a 38-year career.

Grace Burke’s 1964 yearbook photo
Grace Allman Burke ’64 in the yearbook. (Provided)

“We got excellent experience,” she says of her Cornell years. “We rotated through all of the different services—medicine, surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics, psychiatry, and public health—to get that solid base of training. The nursing and medical staffs incorporated us into whatever was going on.”

The nursing graduates remain a unique group among Big Red alumni. For one thing, their population is overwhelmingly female: just 47 men earned degrees, all in the school’s final decade.

The nurses’ residence library and lounge
The nurses’ residence library and lounge.

And only a small number of nursing alums spent their first two years of college on the Ithaca campus—meaning that most earned bachelor’s degrees from Cornell without ever studying on the Hill.

Their unique educational path gave the nursing students a solid academic background before launching them into clinical training at a renowned hospital that was part of the University’s growing medical campus.

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Doris Glick ’66, taking a break in her room in the nurses’ residence, fall 1963
Doris Glick ’66 in her room. (Provided)

“You go through certain rites of passage,” observes Mary Belmont ’71, who has begun a planned series of nonfiction books for young readers highlighting some of the school’s early alumni. “Maybe it’s witnessing the birth of a baby, or it’s the first time you’ve seen someone die. I think those experiences bind us together as nurses.”

In addition to sharing a course of study, most students lived together in the residence on York Avenue.

The building also housed working nurses—and, for a time, even the school’s dean.

For many years, the students wore classic nursing caps and uniforms, though hemlines rose over the decades.

Per longstanding tradition, seniors would mark the completion of their studies by tossing their uniform shoes into the East River.

“You graduated with the PhDs and the medical students, and the ceremony was on the front lawn of the hospital,” recalls Lubansky, who went on to earn a doctorate in nursing from SUNY and is now both an advanced practice nurse in primary care and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine.

“It was quite grand and wonderful.”

Community outreach comprised a significant part of the training.

In addition to their hospital rounds, students traveled to underserved communities in all five boroughs for public health rotations.

Student nurses Stasi Lubansky ’78, left, and Eleanor Lannen Koo ’78 in their apartment
Stasi Lubansky ’78 (left) and Eleanor Lannen Koo ’78 in their apartment. (Provided)

They made home visits, assessed patients, reported diagnoses to clinicians, and educated families at neighborhood health centers.

Ina Goldberg ’76 vividly remembers receiving enthusiastic welcomes from residents, with calls of “The nurses are coming!”

“We were students,” she says, “but we represented healthcare for them.”

We rotated through all of the different services to get that solid base of training.

Grace Allman Burke ’64

Goldberg’s class was among the last to earn degrees from the school, which endured financial struggles, especially in its final decade.

Lacking a large endowment, it faced numerous challenges including new federal insurance regulations that severely curtailed hospital reimbursements for nursing education.

In recent decades, nursing alumni have come together to share the school’s legacy and impact, as well as their own stories.

In 2007, an alumni group published a book it commissioned, Go, And Do Thou Likewise: A History of Cornell University–New York Hospital School of Nursing, 1877–1979.

It offers an overview of the institution’s century-long impact, some of its notable graduates, and the evolution of nursing education in New York State.

Taking a closer look in anatomy class
In anatomy class.

“As trailblazers at the beginning of modern nursing, the [school’s] graduates spread their mission around the world to raise education standards and improve the quality of patient-care services,” the book notes. “Throughout the years, nursing students were exposed to a rich laboratory in an institution that evolved into a famous academic medical center, dedicated to innovation and scientific discovery.”

Linda Vecchiotti Saal ’71, the alumni association’s president, long worked at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Department of Nursing as program director for continuing education and affiliations.

She notes that many classmates went on to pursue careers not just in healthcare, but in law and other fields, with their nursing education as a foundation.

“The school had a proud history of preparing excellent clinicians and influential nurse leaders,” Saal says. “I will never forget the professors, great role models, and amazing learning opportunities I had.”

I will never forget the professors, great role models, and amazing learning opportunities I had.

Linda Vecchiotti Saal ’71

Doris Glick ’66 also rose to a prominent position at Cornell’s own teaching hospital, becoming vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

Like Saal, she notes that the school nurtured lifelong leadership skills that served alumni well, across fields and careers.

“Wherever I went, I’d always come across someone in leadership—whether it was in education or they were directors or vice presidents—who had gone to the Cornell School of Nursing,” says Glick. “That was the kind of graduate the school produced.”

Top: Demonstrating blood pressure measurement in a nursing arts class, circa the 1930s. All photos courtesy of the Medical Center Archives of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, unless otherwise indicated.

Published September 12, 2023


  1. Ina Goldberg, Class of 1976

    Tears come to my eyes reading about the shared experiences of my fellow Nursing School Alumni and seeing pictures representing the history of nursing at Cornell Nursing School.

    I am very proud to be a Cornell Nursing School Alumni and to have represented the Alumni organization as a Vice President of the Cornell Board of Directors for the past 40+ years.

    Thank you for this wonderful article and for making the larger Cornell community aware of the accomplishments, contributions and valuable personal and professional experiences provided by our beloved Cornell Nursing School.

  2. Grace E McNeal, Class of 1973

    I graduated from CU-NYHSON in 1973. My class was the third 4-year total program. The last 5 year program, 2 years of general education and then 3 of Nursing Education graduated in 1971 in addition to a 4 year track. The Cornell Nursing Program prepared me for my career that has lasted for over 50 years and still going strong. I have continued to use and teach concepts that I remember learning as a nursing student, passing them on to my own Nursing Students over many years. The technology may have changed, but basic Nursing Concepts have remained the same. In this aspect, CU-NYHSON hasn’t ceased to exist, as it’s legacy is passed on to all that I have ever had any interaction with.

  3. Susan Schifter Labarthe

    Great to see the School of Nursing featured in this venue! I was surprised, however, to read “Graduates received a BS in nursing from Cornell as well as a nursing diploma from New York Hospital.” When I graduated in 1967 I received a BSN degree from Cornell (that looked very similar to my BA from 1964,) but no “diploma” from NYH. I’d be curious to know whether that was in fact ever the case.

    • Joe Wilensky

      Thanks! Your comment/question prompted us to examine the history more closely; it looks like a separate nursing was indeed granted by the hospital, but perhaps only in the 1940s and ’50s; by the ’60s only the BSN was given. I have updated the story text to reflect this.

      • Martha Jewett, Class of 1970

        Wonderful history. I often wonder why so many BSN schools of nursing closed about the same time frame? Duke? Simmons? Johns Hopkins?? Maybe we were a financial threat to hospital costs? It seems very short sighted to me!

  4. Naomi Tuttle, Class of 1959

    Thanks for putting this together.

  5. Priscilla Dorman Hall, Class of 1975

    I graduated in 1975 after getting a BA in history elsewhere, and was in a two year clinical and classroom program for a BSN (sciences were pre-requisites.) We comprised about 1/2 the graduates, the others were first time bachelor degree recipients and were quite a separate program from ours. We lived one year in the 1320 York Avenue dorm, and the next in the brand new apartments on 70th Street between York and 1st Ave.

    • Charlotte Dole Worrall, Class of 1958

      Thank you so much for sending me this email. It is really well done and brings back fond memories of my nursing school days long ago.
      Charlotte Dole Worrall

  6. Jane Heinen Wanderer, Class of 1966

    Thank you for this article! As a member of the 1963-1966 CUNYHSN Trebles vocal group I recall singing at the Waldorf for a large Cornell Alumni dinner. We also performed down at Bellevue and rode the bus back uptown singing all the way. When we disembarked riders on the bus applauded.

  7. Beverly Miller, Class of 1959

    Thank you so much for this article, it brought back such fond memories! Our class secretaries have kept our class in touch, in fact we had a zoom call this weekend and discussed how we even had Margaret Mead as a lecturer. Our education was first rate and prepared us for a variety of nursing pursuits, mine was in Public Health!

  8. Jean Takach Schoppel, Class of 1967

    Thanks so much for this story ! I worked in the OB-Gyn department at NYH until 1970, then left to become a mother, but came back in the late 1970’s to be the relief evening supervisor also in the OB-Gyn department. In 1973 I became a certified Lamaze instructor and then a certified Lactation Consultant so I joined the hospital Preparation for Parenthood program where I worked until I retired in 2005. You can’t be part of a place for so long without it becoming cemented in your psyche so I still have dreams about CU-NYH ! So sad that they closed the Nursing School. It was a wonderful program !!

  9. Sally Cox Frey, Class of 1969

    We all truly value our education at CUNYHSN. So many graduates had illustrious careers in nursing crediting their education at Cornell University School of Nursing. The class of 1969 had a great 50th reunion and some of us stayed at 1320 York Avenue (now the Helmsley Medical Tower). So nice to be back “on campus” with friends who have remained dear friends for over 50 years.
    This article in The Cornell University magazine was wonderful to read and so glad that it was published for Cornell in Ithaca.

  10. Gerry Miller Jennings, Class of 1963

    Not having a tremendous variety of possibilities women in the early 60s, I chose to go to Cornell Nursing School in New York City after two years of education at Cornell in Ithaca. I had honestly never yearned to be a nurse, but what I learned in my three years in New York City was far beyond anything I was learning in my first two years. Besides the academic work, which was rigorous, we developed skills in leadership, time management, communication, team building, and care and consideration for human beings, no matter who they were and where they came from. Much of what we learned as basic skills in our work wasn’t even considered in other fields until 30 years later and were labeled as innovative. These skills have been essential to all of our work, whether it was in the field of medicine or elsewhere. The class of ‘63 celebrated its 60th anniversary this past May with 22 graduates present, each with a success story of her own. Our three years at CUNYHSN was epic.

  11. Janet Greenleaf, Class of 1960

    Yes, it is wonderful to read this history and memories. I am grateful for the traning I received, which enabled me to work as a public health nurse for a period,and later to enjoy being a Visiting Nurse. But most of my working career was is Thailand, working with leprosy patients, delivering several of their babies, thanks to my year of experience post-graduate in Lying In Hospital at NY Hospital. And then I remember the training experiences and how hard much of it was for me, and am again thankful for the instructors who pushed me on, so that I could graduate in 1960 and work as a nurse all the way to retirement.


    Much thanks for this article. It brings back many memories of hard work but good times. Due to the education and experience we received as undergraduates, I was able to put my skills to good use as a navy nurse, which I joined while still in school. I know a number of nurses who followed that path. Great to see the recognition of the nursing school in the Cornell University publication.

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