Current Town Residents Attended Milford Hospital Nursing School Before it Closed in 1959
May Richards and Mary Villani attended the nursing school at Milford Hospital. Photo by Linda Chuss
Founded in 1905, the school graduated hundreds to fill the hospital’s staffing needs
By Linda Chuss
Every year from 1905 to 1959, a dozen or so young women from Milford and the surrounding region enrolled at the Milford Hospital Training School for Nursing. It was located at Main and Prospect streets next to the hospital which opened in 1903. Funds to build the hospital were donated by Hopedale’s Eben Draper, who became Governor of Massachusetts. His wife, Susan, was the benefactor for the nursing school, where the women boarded and took classes.
The students were trailblazers; before the mid-20th century, few women pursued professional careers.
Milford Nursing School and Hospital in 1905 at Prospect and Main streets. Photo courtesy of the Milford Historical Society
Women chose nursing for different reasons. Mary Villani, a current and lifelong resident of Milford, said, “I always wanted to be a nurse. I would fix my doll’s broken legs and take care of them.” Another town resident May Richards said, “I wanted a job so I became a Blue Girl. We were called that because we wore blue uniforms. Our job was to wash dishes. A few nursing students encouraged me to apply to the program.”
Six months after matriculating, students who met the criteria were awarded their caps, meaning they could continue. They learned in the hospital wards and the operating and emergency rooms. For special subjects like pediatrics and infectious diseases, they went to hospital schools from Providence to Boston, where the Milford students were well-regarded.
Villani graduated from the training school and worked at the hospital for 15 years. As for Richards, the nursing school closed during her first year, so she completed the curriculum in Everett then returned to work at Milford Hospital.
Both women had profound experiences. Once, an older patient in a coma surprised Villani. “She bolted up, smiled, and raised her arms. Then she slumped back onto her pillow and soon passed away.” Villani had another memorable patient, the hospital’s founder, former Governor Draper, which made her nervous.
There were lighter moments as well. Richards enjoyed special celebrations when “We could talk with the doctors on a friendly level.”
Villani recalled a late-night pillow fight in the residence. “When we heard the supervisor coming, everyone hid in a closet, but it was too full for me. I started to hide under the bed when the supervisor came in. She asked me what I was doing on the floor.” They escaped consequences.
During the era they worked, antibiotics had a significant impact by greatly reducing the time patients were hospitalized for infections. Similarly, the polio vaccine eradicated the disease.
Richards and Villani are grateful to have helped many patients. Milford Hospital has been reliant on nurses like them for its original building, and after a century of growth, for its network of facilities across the region today.