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Shannon and the History of Healthcare in the Concho Valley: Shannon School of Nursing and Healthcare Training in West Texas

Shannon and the History of Healthcare in the Concho Valley: Shannon School of Nursing and Healthcare Training in West Texas

Providing exceptional care in medicine requires well-trained, competent physicians and nursing staff – and there are few places that understand the importance of good nurses as much as West Texas and the Concho Valley.

From the establishment of the first hospital in San Angelo, training nurses was prioritized as a crucial part of their operations. St. John’s Infirmary (later St. John’s Hospital), the first modern hospital in the Concho Valley, chartered its St. John’s Infirmary Training School for Nurses shortly after opening in 1910.

Likewise, Drs. Henry P. Rush and William F. Chambers founded a nursing school at the same time as the San Angelo Physicians and Surgeons Hospital (later known as the San Angelo Hospital) inside the Findlater house at Magdalen Street and Harris Avenue in 1923. Many of the 11 student nurses “transferred” in from other nursing schools across Texas, a pattern that would continue during the hospital’s early years.

When the Concho Valley Missionary Baptist Association purchased the San Angelo Hospital, the nursing school continued operations as the San Angelo Baptist School of Nursing. The Findlater house at Magdalen Street and Harris Avenue became the school dormitory in 1927, when the Baptist Association started construction on a new four-story brick hospital. However, the Baptist Association faced financial hardship by 1932. Both the hospital and nursing school were on the verge of closing, and only the bottom two floors of the new hospital were complete.

Trustees of the Shannon Estate (a group of local businessmen tasked with establishing and running a nonprofit hospital per J.M. and Margaret Shannon’s will) purchased the hospital from the Baptist Association in the spring of 1932 and renamed it the Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital.

Now known as the Shannon School of Nursing, the program continued to utilize the Findlater house as student housing until 1934. The Nurse’s Home then moved to 22 S Magdalen Street (now Shannon Women’s and Children’s Hospital) until 1941, when a white “square” building was constructed at 120 E Beauregard Avenue.

As a diploma-granting nursing school, life for student nurses was structured and demanding. They began their days early with chapel services and ate all meals in the hospital cafeteria. The white “square” Nurse’s Home housed 75 students at any given time, who were expected to complete 950 hours of standardized nursing coursework in addition to supervised patient care and housekeeping/cleaning tasks in all departments of the hospital. To graduate, students had to complete the prescribed three-year coursework and pass the “State Board” exam.

The standard-issued uniform used to differentiate between student nurses and graduate (licensed) nurses changed during the nursing school’s history:

From the beginning of the program until 1939, student nurses wore blue chambray (light denim) dresses topped with white pinafores (aprons) and black hose and shoes, with a plain white nurse’s cap issued to students after 6 months. White short-sleeve uniform dresses with white hose and shoes became the standard after 1939. The white uniforms featured the school emblem embroidered on the left sleeve, and small stars were sewn on the left collar to denote the student’s academic rank (one star for freshman, two stars for juniors, and three stars for seniors). Nurse’s caps were issued at capping ceremonies, and a black one-quarter-inch ribbon was sewn on after graduation.

Student nurses were responsible for the care of their uniform. The School of Nursing dress code demanded every uniform be a certain number of inches off the floor, meaning each uniform was hemmed for the individual student. For most of the program’s history, makeup and jewelry were not allowed, and hair was not kept longer than the uniform collar.

Mrs. Annie L. Smith, the first full-time instructor at the School of Nursing, designed the school pin given to graduating nurses in 1937; the design featured the school colors of black and gold, a shamrock in memory of J.M. and Margaret Shannon and a five-point Texas star.

Life in the Nurse’s Home was not all rigor and exhaustion, though. Student nurses were known to form close friendships with their fellow students, instructors and housemothers. Freshman (first year) students often underwent initiation rituals like drinking from sterilized bedpans, and most students received affectionate nicknames from fellow students referencing a comical incident on the hospital floor. Longtime housemother Mrs. Lula Dalton, who managed the Nurse’s Home from 1932 until her retirement in 1949, was lovingly known by students as “Phoo-Phoo” because she walked around the dormitory and blew out the lights at curfew.

Organized student life activities included a glee club and three student publications: the Stethoscope (newspaper), the Shamrock (annual) and the Pillbox (handbook). Groups of students would often flock to USO dances at Goodfellow Air Force Base or to local lakes and rivers to swim in their free time.

The Shannon School of Nursing Alumnae Association was formed in the 1930s by graduates of the school as an auxiliary group to host dances and parties, recruit future students and award scholarship money.

The Shannon School of Nursing first formed a course affiliation with San Angelo College (now Angelo State University) in 1941, with all basic science classes being taught on the college campus by 1944.

The School of Nursing also partnered with the United States Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943 to help provide trained nursing staff to armed services during World War II. Over the course of the war, Shannon graduates served overseas in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Pacific Theater. In 1945, Capt. Maymie Weisbach, Army Corps Nurse and Shannon School of Nursing graduate, received a bronze star for outstanding service in the operating room in the 51st General Hospital in Manilla.

San Angelo saw the highest rate of poliomyelitis (polio) infection per capita in the nation in 1949. Public panic created a shortage of nursing staff as mothers feared transmitting polio to their families; as a result, students and graduates of the School of Nursing received hands-on training in managing and treating polio using heat compresses and the eight iron lungs used at the hospital.

That same year, a practical nurse (nurse’s aide) course was introduced. This course was a joint effort between the Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital, the Clinic-Hospital and the public school system. In one year of coursework and clinical observation, students could earn a practical nurse license. Graduates were guaranteed a monthly salary starting at $125 if they chose to work at the Shannon hospital or Clinic-Hospital.

The Shannon School of Nursing closed in 1968. During its 36 years of operation, the program graduated 565 licensed nurses, who provided care in 28 states (including Texas) and two foreign countries.

The Shannon School of Nursing Alumae Association remains active, and contributed personal correspondence, Association records, photos and other memorabilia to a designated exhibit during the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital in 2007. These materials are currently housed in the Dr. Ralph Chase West Texas Collection at Angelo State University. Select uniforms and photos are on permanent display on the second floor of the downtown hospital.

Shannon Medical Center continues to prioritize the training and education of up-and-coming healthcare workers in West Texas.

In addition to ongoing partnerships with Angelo State University and Howard College, students in the medical field can utilize the Margaret Shannon Tuition Assistance Program while working at Shannon or participate in the five-week Certified Nursing Assistant program with guaranteed job placement after completion. Shannon Clinic – St. John’s Campus also serves as the training center for the Howard College Health Professions program, where former inpatient and surgery facilities are used as realistic training settings to teach future nurses, radiology technicians, respiratory therapists and surgical technicians of tomorrow.

Shannon would like to thank the administrators and staff of the Dr. Ralph R. Chase West Texas Collection at the Mayer Museum at Angelo State University for their assistance in creating this series of historical blog posts. Learn more about the West Texas Collection at