Anna Laura Cole

TEMPLE — In the early 1930s, it was the worst of times and the best of times to be a nurse.

Anna Laura Cole (1909-1995) assumed leadership of the Scott & White Training School (later the School of Nursing) in 1931, a difficult time for the medical institution and for the profession of nursing in general.

For the next few decades, she built the program, and sustained and improved it until Scott & White became a leader in nursing education and medical care. Just before her retirement in 1969, she guided the transition of the diploma school to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where it became a baccalaureate program. Nurses under her direction simultaneously stood in awe and fear of her steady gaze and discerning eye.

Alumni of the Scott & White School of Nursing and UMHB will gather Saturday at 9 a.m. on the medical center campus’ Brindley Circles to dedicate an official state historical marker to honor the woman who set the bar for nursing excellence. The marker is awarded from the Texas Historical Commission and coordinated through the Bell County Historical Commission.

Guest speaker will be LaVerne McDaniel of Thrall, who trained under Cole, then worked as a nurse and a supervisor at Scott & White and other hospitals. Many of Cole’s other protégés will participate in the program: Linda Pehl, and Grace Labaj, former UMHB School of Nursing deans; Edna Krempin, Barbara Thomas, Shirley Holleman and Novalene Green.

Cole assumed the directorship at a time of transition. The nursing director who had set up the training program in 1905 died in 1922. Scott & White had a succession of directors until her appointment in 1931.

Devastated by the Great Depression, Scott & White weathered many economic cutbacks while still trying to maintain quality medical and nursing care.

At the turn of the 20th century, the popularity of nursing as a profession for women gradually grew. Only 15 nurse training schools operated in the United States in 1880. By 1890, when Texas opened its first nurse training school in Galveston, the nation had 35 schools and 500 trained nurses.

Despite those gains, the future of nursing education in Texas was rocky. In 1929, when Cole began nurse training, Texas had 84 accredited schools of nursing, but by 1937, only 47 had survived, among them the diploma programs at Scott & White and King’s Daughters hospitals. Of these schools, 34 were accredited, including the two Temple programs.

Economic concerns and the reduction in nursing schools also created a nursing shortage. By the mid-1930s, Texas had 286 hospitals with 30,000 beds. In 1933, Texas had one registered nurse for every 1,033 people. Scott & White had no women enroll in 1932 because of the Great Depression; thus, it did not have a graduating class in 1935.

Cole enrolled in Scott & White School of Nursing in 1927. After graduating in 1931 as valedictorian from the nursing program, she was appointed assistant director of nursing education, then named nursing school instructor. In 1933, she became director of both the nursing school and nursing services for the hospital and clinic.

Her leadership abilities and uncanny management skills throughout the sprawling institution were legendary. Cole earned her Bachelor of Nursing Education from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1940, the first to receive a diploma in its newly instituted degree program.

She also lived in and supervised a nursing dorm until 1956 and kept a watchful eye on the comings and goings of several dozen student nurses each day. Even 30 years after their graduation, alumnae recalled her lessons:

  • Nursing assessment skills: “Check vital signs, temperature, pulse respiration, body alignment, abdominal and bladder distension before arbitrarily giving a patient a shot for pain.”
  • Respect for authority: “Don’t walk into the elevator before the Director of Nursing or any physician.”
  • Shrewd politics: “Check the sheets to make sure they don’t have any holes or frays before putting them on the bed, especially if you are nursing a member of Lyndon Johnson’s family.”
  • Cost containment: “Cortisone costs $20 a vial. Don’t waste it.”
  • Management principles: “One-minute praise; one-minute reprimand.”

A tireless worker for upgrading registered nursing standards statewide, she served on the State Board of Nurse Examiners and the Board of Vocational Nurse Examiners.

In June 1941, the governor named her to the Board of Nurse Examiners, a position she held until 1949.

By 1948, Cole was named to the board of the Texas League of Nursing Education.

Cole attributed better-trained registered nurses — among other things — as the reason why hospitals had fewer disgruntled patients than in previous years.

“Yes, we have our patients who expect more and demand more than others, but it’s like in any other profession or business. Our personnel are better trained today than ever before and they know how to handle all cases. In all, they try to make it as pleasant as possible for all them while they are confined to the hospital premises,” Cole told the San Antonio Light newspaper in 1951.

Scott & White and the School of Nursing also instituted the Anna Laura Cole Nursing Lectureship, and nursing administration offices located in the Scott & White Day Surgery building bear her name. When Cole retired in 1969, nearly 870 nurses had trained under her guidance — each one with a personal story to tell about Miss Cole.

If you go:

  • WHAT: Anna Laura Cole Historical Marker Dedication
  • WHEN: 9 a.m. Saturday
  • WHERE: Scott & White Brindley Circles, 2401 S. 31st St.
  • INFO: Ceremony open to public

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