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Modern nursing education owes much to rural York County’s Florence Gipe

Dr. Florence Meda Gipe
Dr. Florence Meda Gipe

Dr. Florence Gipe was a very interesting woman. She was a pioneer in modern nursing education and also deeply interested in York County History and Civil War history.

I only met Dr. Gipe once, even though she was a childhood friend of both my parents and my stepfather. They all grew up together in the New Bridgeville/Brogue area. When she found I didn’t have my own personal copy of her history of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where both my and my husband’s families go back for generations, she immediately autographed a copy and gave it to me.

I wish I had known her better, especially after reading comments about my recently York Sunday News column on Dr. Gipe. You can tell how much she was respected and admired. I’ll share some of those comments in a future post. The column is below:

York County’s Florence Gipe Helped Shape Modern Nursing Education

Modern nursing education owes much to a native of rural Chanceford Township. She is credited as being one of the driving forces of establishing nursing as an academic discipline instead of vocational training. Dr. Florence Gipe is quoted on her own page on the University of Maryland School of Nursing website; it sums up her philosophy: “You train dogs, you educate nurses.”

Florence Meda Gipe was born September 10, 1895 near New Bridgeville. He parents were John Wesley Gipe and the former Mary Ellen Hake. Florence (as in Nightingale) turned out to be a fitting name.

After Red Lion High School, Florence graduated from the York Hospital School of Nursing in 1919 and went to work for York Hospital as a Graduate Nurse (later known as Registered Nurse). While there she was allowed to travel to Detroit’s Grace Hospital for anesthesiology study in the 1920s, becoming, according to a York Hospital history, the hospital’s first full-time nurse anesthetist.

Gipe served as Director of Nursing at York Hospital from 1928 to 1935. In an article on Gipe in Legacies: Remembrances of York County Women (York Chapter American Association of University Women, 1984), a former student described Gipe as “brilliant and strict with new ideas.” Perhaps her new ideas did not mesh with the hospital administration at that time. An article in a York newspaper on July 8, 1935 is headed: “MISS GIPE IS APPOINTED STATE HOSPITAL CHIEF, DISMISSED YORK SUPERINTENDENT IS NAMED BY GOVERNOR EARLE, LARGER THAN YORK UNIT.” The article says that she had been dismissed by the hospital’s Board of Directors, but makes a point that she was: “Subsequently given a vote of confidence in a resolution passed by members of the staff of physicians and surgeons of York Hospital.” The article names the state hospital as a Children’s Hospital at Cresson in Cambria County. She evidently didn’t stay there long, returning to the education of nurses by serving as Clinical Instructor in Nursing at Catholic University in Washington, DC during 1936 and 1937. While there she obtained her own BS in Nursing from Catholic U.

Gipe was the Director of Nursing Vocation at Reading Hospital School of Nursing (Albright College) from 1937 to 1940, while working on a MS degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She then went to Maryland, as Director of Nursing at Maryland General Hospital in Baltimore from 1940-1946 and Director of Nursing at University Hospital in Baltimore (University of Maryland) from 1946-1952. Continuing the pattern of furthering her own education while holding responsible positions, she was awarded her Doctor of Science in Education from the University of Maryland graduate school in 1952.

After completing her doctorate, Dr. Gipe was named Professor and the first Dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing, a post she held from 1952 until her retirement in 1966. The UM School of Nursing webpage credits Gipe with creating the first undergraduate (1952) and graduate (1954) nursing programs in Maryland. It says: “Under Dean Gipe and her successors, School of Nursing students were socialized into a profession that demanded the ability to think critically, learn new skills, and assume leadership.”

A copy of the program from an event at the University of Maryland on May 10, 1966, honoring Dr. Gipe upon her retirement, shows the esteem in which she was held. Greetings were given by the Governor of Maryland, J. Millard Tawes, as well at the Board of Regents Chairman and the University of Maryland President. Her roots were not forgotten, as Reverend Joseph W. Seitz was asked to give the invocation at the occasion. Then at Spring Grove, Pastor Seitz had previously served her home church, St. Luke Lutheran at New Bridgeville, where she was a member all her life.

Dr. Gipe wrote numerous journal articles on nursing, often clearly stating her view that “Graduate education in clinical nursing is neither a luxury nor the business of a privileged class. It is the business of all, which naturally includes society as the consumer and all members of the nursing profession.” She coauthored Ward Administration and Clinical Teaching (1949). Her 720 page Ed D thesis is titled The Development of Nursing in Maryland (1972), a subject which she herself heavily influenced.

After retirement Dr. Gipe did consulting in the nursing and education field in Maryland and Virginia. She eventually retired back to Red Lion, near family, resuming activity at St. Luke, teaching Sunday School and serving on the church council. She combined her writing skills with a love of history, penning A 200th Anniversary History of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in 1972.

Dr. Gipe was not without honor in her home county. York College awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1979, citing her as an “educator, innovator and leader in profession of nursing.” According to Karen Rice-Young of the York College Archives and Lila Fourhman-Shaull of York County Heritage Trust, York College started its four-year nursing program in 1977, as York Hospital phased out its nursing program. The college awarded its first B.S. degrees in nursing in 1982. The school offers BS and MS degrees in Nursing as well as Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with classroom instruction at the college and most of the clinical experience at York Hospital. You can imagine that Dr. Gipe was probably very pleased to see those developments.

According to a Free Press clipping in Gipe’s file at York County Heritage Trust, nearly 200 members and friends of St. Luke’s gathered to honor her in January 1983, establishing a Dr. Florence M. Gipe Camp Scholarship. She died in June of that year, leaving as survivors a brother, legendary York County fiddler William Wesley Gipe, his wife Helen and a niece and nephew.