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VCU School of Nursing celebrates 125 years as a trailblazer in nursing education and research

People seated at tables listen to a woman standing at a lectern.
Jean Giddens, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Nursing, speaks during the gala marking the 125th anniversary of the VCU School of Nursing. (Photo courtesy of VCU School of Nursing)

VCU School of Nursing celebrated its legacy as a trailblazer in nursing education and research at its 125th Anniversary Gala on Oct. 25. More than 270 faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and friends were on hand at The Jefferson Hotel for the culminating event of the school’s anniversary celebration. The gala raised $83,000 for the School of Nursing 125th Anniversary Scholarship.  

“The School of Nursing has been influential from the beginning,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing. “We’ve had a tremendous impact on nursing through the efforts and careers of our alumni and the efforts of our faculty and staff. The often-used metaphor dating back to the 12th century that we stand on the shoulders of giants truly applies here.”

Giddens, the Doris B. Yingling Endowed Chair, acknowledged her predecessor in the audience — retired Dean Nancy Langston, Ph.D. — for leading the school through a significant period of growth for more than 20 years. Giddens also recognized partners, such as VCU Health System, and others for their work with the school.

Several VCU nursing students wore uniforms from the past as they mingled with guests during the gala. The oldest uniform, a floor-length white dress with a white bib, cuffs and gray chambray shirt, was worn by nursing students from 1895 to 1903.

Students stand wearing a variety of nurse outfits
Students dress in nursing uniforms seen throughout the profession's history. Pictured from left to right with era of uniform: Andrea Berger, 1950s; Shirley Barlow, 1940s; Jerica Santorum, 1980s; Jedidiah Fung, present-day; Stephanie Rudderow, 1890s.

The newest members of the Cabaniss Society, named for VCU School of Nursing founder Sadie Heath Cabaniss, were recognized during the gala. Membership consists of donors who have contributed $1,000 or more during the past fiscal year. The following supporters were recognized with a special Cabaniss plate: Patti and Mike Breen, Herb Griffith, Mildred Neagle, Patricia Selig, Jacquelyn and Gerald Stone, Marcia and Harry Thalhimer, Tammy Williams  and Christine Wynd.

The prior day featured a lecture, time capsule dedication and the debut of a display in the school’s Heritage Room showcasing stories of six St. Philip School of Nursing alumnae. MCV School of Nursing founded the St. Philip School of Nursing in 1920 to educate African American women during segregation and to provide nursing care for patients in the St. Philip Hospital.

Another gala highlight was a silent auction of two original artworks and one print donated by Baxter Perkinson, D.D.S., a past rector of VCU and avid watercolorist. The print was titled “When Nursing Flowered” in honor of the school's 125th anniversary. Proceeds from the silent auction went toward the VCU School of Nursing 125th Anniversary Scholarship.

A woman in a white T-shirt puts a box labeled "125" in a hole surrounded by bricks.
A VCU School of nursing staff member models the placement of a time capsule on the grounds of the VCU School of Nursing. (Photo by Leah Small, University Public Affairs)

Perkinson said he was inspired by the school’s history when naming the print, according to Giddens. The blooming flowers represent the maturation of the nursing profession and the School of Nursing — from seedlings, to a plant and then to a mature, diverse and beautiful garden full of flowers that continue to bloom, Giddens said.

“My commitment is to ensure this garden continues to thrive so that our faculty and staff can be successful in their work, that our students are well-prepared and highly sought after, and ultimately health care benefits from this work,” she said.

The school is still accepting donations for the 125th Anniversary Scholarship, aiming to raise $125,000 by the end of the year. From now until Dec. 31, anyone who makes a donation of $50 or more to the 125th Anniversary Scholarship Fund can pick up a print of "When Nursing Flowered." To coordinate print pick up, please contact Amber Yancey at abyancey@vcu.edu or 804-828-2993.