The School of Nursing was established in 1965, with Professor Marguerite P. Coffman having been named the dean. Dean Coffman began laying the groundwork for the school a year prior to its establishment. I was the first faculty member to have been appointed. A small number of students, who would be completing the pre-nursing requirements for admission by the end of their freshman year, were selected for admission to the School of Nursing. They had been chosen by an ad hoc committee consisting of Dean Coffman and faculty from various disciplines in the University.
Ever since the founding of the first nursing schools by Florence Nightingale in England in 1863, a white cap and a pin had graced the uniforms worn by professional nurses. Both the cap and the pin were distinctly unique for each school of nursing. The cap was usually presented to the student in a special ceremony at the end of a probationary period, the length of which was determined by the individual school. The pin indicated successful completion of the program which was generally either two or three years in length.
When UW-Eau Claire nursing students were ready to don their school uniforms and begin their practice of nursing skills in the hospitals and nursing homes during their sophomore year, they initially wore a simple white paper cap that they themselves folded and attached to their hair. Meanwhile, Nancy Fugate, a member of the first class, was busy designing a very attractive cap that was unanimously approved by both students and faculty.
In the fall semester of the 1967-68 academic year Dean Coffman announced that the students might wish to submit designs for the school pin, since the first class would be graduating in the spring of 1968.
The invitation generated a multitude of designs. One day when I was in Dean Coffman's office she handed the stack to me for quick review and comment. I registered my disappointment that the symbols that had been incorporated in the designs did not reflect the fact that collegiate schools were distinctly different from nurse training schools, owned and operated by hospitals and heavily weighted toward apprenticeship learning.
It was apparent that the students were enchanted by the symbol of the bright red Maltese cross that either dominated or shaped the pins of countless numbers of the hospital school across the country. That symbol is relevant to nursing, having served as the rallying symbol for the Knights of Malta, a monastic religious order that gave supportive care to pilgrims making their way from Europe toward Jerusalem during the Crusades in the Middle Ages.
Dean Coffman challenged me to submit a design, although she was not keen about faculty or administrators exercising too much influence over matters that could be decided by students.
Coming up with a design proved to be a simple task. Shortly before I had arrived on campus, the University had adopted a beautiful official seal featuring the 300 year old Council Oak tree that stood in the middle of the campus, a lighted lamp, the year in which the institution had been founded, and the word EXCELLENCE emblazoned on it. I found room for two very small Maltese crosses, and added SCHOOL OF NURSING to the name of our University on the band which circled the symbols.
The students were delighted with the design I submitted, particularly after Dean Coffman interpreted the meaning of the symbols: both the tree and the lamp are symbols of learning and knowledge in the academic world, the lamp is also known as the Nightingale lamp in the nursing profession, and the two Maltese crosses acknowledge the significance of the monastic nursing orders in the early evolution of nursing history.
Nursing leaders had long worked very hard to make a place for nursing education on college and university campuses throughout the country. The UWEC School of Nursing pin reflects that vision come to fruition.
A wooden plaque of the pin which hangs in distance learning room 114 was created by Kevin Mithun and dedicated on October 9, 1998 to the 17 members of the first class to graduate from the UWEC School of Nursing, and who have proudly worn the first of the school pins struck form the die fashioned by Josten Jewelry Company.
Article written by:
Ms. Berniece Wagner, a founding faculty member and former Associate Dean for Student Affairs of our original School of Nursing.