nurses having tea in McKim Hall 1954
Nurses living in McKim Hall,1954, at a daily tea held by housemothers. Teas served an important social function, and were instructive, too, for RNs who might one day work in private duty.

University of Virginia is rife with traditions, including the one that gathered, from the 1920s through the 1960s, nursing students for tea. It was a social gathering, to be sure, for the uniformed student nurses who were either coming off a hospital shift or heading into work, and one that many looked forward to for the company and the sweet snack (cookies and sometimes pastries were served), there in the rather elegant basement living room of McKim Hall, which housed nursing students from the 1933 to 1974.

Tea service aimed to "put a little polish on the nurses. Some of our students weren't accustomed to those traditions, had come from rural areas, and weren't necessarily used to it."

Barbara Brodie, nurse historian, professor emerita, and an American Academy of Nursing Living Legend

But the teas were instructional in nature, too. The McKim Hall dorm housemothers aimed to "put a little polish on the nurses," explains professor emerita Barbara Brodie, a nurse historian and American Academy of Nursing Living Legend. "Some of our students weren't used to those traditions, had come from rural areas, and weren't necessarily used to it."

The teas also served the nurses professionally, Brodie notes, because many would, after graduation, go on to become private duty nurses working for families within the home, where such genteel traditions might be held, and expected. They learned to make, serve, and pour tea, act as hostess, distribute cookies, and make small talk. The ceremonies were held through the mid-1960s, a point at which “those rituals began to change,” says Brodie.

These days, nursing students gather in myriad formal and informal ways, including for the annual welcome back picnic – held earlier this week – a decidedly more casual affair held each fall on McLeod Patio where lines of hungry faculty, staff, students and administrators enjoy Wayside fried chicken, slaw, and lemonade courtesy of the Nursing Student Council.

But occasionally, high tea is still served on the School’s rather spectacular tea service. Each fall, senior administrators, including the dean, gather to celebrate the small handful of students who've earned intermediate honors by virtue of their strong GPAs and full course loads. Tea parties are, after all, timeless.

This #FlashbackFriday brought to you by tbe Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. Special thanks to Barbara Brodie, author of MR. JEFFERSON’S NURSES (UVA: 2001), and Arlene Keeling, professor emerita and president of the American Association for the History of Nursing. #histnursing #histmedicine #nursinghistory