Early Illinois Women

Mary C. Wheeler, Superintendent of Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses, Quincy, Illinois, 1899-1910

Mary Wheeler (1869-1944) graduated from Ripon College in 1890 and Illinois Training School for Nurses in 1893. She came to Blessing Hospital in 1899 to run the school and hospital. This is the earliest picture of her in the Blessing Hospital Archives and shows her as a graduate nurse.
This signature is on the inside cover of the 1901 edition of Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is Not by Florence Nightingale. This book was one of the few nursing texts available at that time.
Excerpt of the Board of Lady Managers of Blessing Hospital, Annual Report, May, 1903. "The Training School has reached a high standard of efficiency and has been reorganized to such an extent that Miss Wheeler has been asked to be on the board of directors of the State Association of Graduate Nurses."
This picture shows Miss Wheeler with the 1904 nursing class of Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses. She had just returned from a leave of absence to take the graduate course in hospital economics taught by Nutting and offered by Teachers College, Columbia University. This prestigious course was by invitation only.
Miss Wheeler with the 1905 nursing class of Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses.

During this time period Miss Wheeler spent time in Springfield lobbying the State Legislature to pass the Nurse Practice Act. The bill was first sent in 1903 but did not pass until 1907. Miss Wheeler was then appointed to the first Illinois State Board of Examiners of Registered Nurses. This board visited all of the nursing schools in Illinois to see if they met the standards necessary for their graduates to take the licensure examination.

When this 1911 class picture was taken, Miss Wheeler had changed the curriculum of the training school and the criteria for entrance. The requirement for a diploma was now three years of training. Blessing was among the first 30 training schools in Illinois to be registered. All Blessing graduates were then eligible to sit for the exam and put RN behind their name. Earlier graduates were grandfathered into the profession.
By the time of this photograph, published in the American Journal of Nursing, October, 1922, Miss Wheeler had been President of the National League for Nursing Education, Superintendent of Illinois Training School, and had written her own book, Nursing Technic. She had become a nursing leader of national stature.


  1. Board of Lady Managers of Blessing Hospital. (1898-1910). Minutes (minutes of monthly meetings). Quincy, IL: Blessing Hospital.
  2. Church, O. M. (1988). Mary Curtis Wheeler. In V. L. Bullough, O. M. Church, & A. P. Stein (Eds.).
  3. American Nursing: A biographical dictionary (Vol. 1, pp. 334-335). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
  4. Dunwiddie, A. M. (1937). A history of the Illinois State Nurses' Association, 1901-1935. Chicago, IL: Illinois State Nurses' Association.
  5. Obituaries. (1945, February). American Journal of Nursing, 45, 164.
  6. Schryver, G. F. (1930). A history of the Illinois Training School for Nurses: 1880-1929. Chicago, IL: The Board of Directors of the Illinois Training School for Nurses.

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