Our History

Knowlton Hospital School for Nurses - 1901  

Theodore Roosevelt took his oath as the 26th President of the United States...scientists isolated the hormone adrenaline...Walt Disney was born...a transatlantic message was sent from England to Newfoundland for the first time...bacon was 15 cents a pound...the world had settled into a new century...it was 1901.

It was the year that Miss Olive B. Knowlton, a registered nurse, and Dr. Nathaniel A. Gray launched the Knowlton Hospital and Training School in a Sycamore Street (Michigan Street ) mansion, which had been owned by the Rock family. Students who enrolled in the new school arrived by horse and buggy or via the yellow and orange Grand Avenue trolley car, which stopped a block away.

The training school was designed as a three-year course of study, which at that time, was the second three-year program inaugurated in the state. In 1909, a Columbia Hospital Corporation was formed and took over the Knowlton Hospital. Continuity of nurses' training was not interrupted; however, the name was changed to the Columbia Hospital School of Nursing. When the three-year course of study ended in 1983 to become a baccalaureate program, Columbia College of Nursing claimed the longevity records for the oldest three-year nursing program in the State of Wisconsin.

When the school changed its name in 1909, it also changed its director; Miss Carol L. Martin was appointed Superintendent of the Hospital and Director of Nursing.  She held this post until 1917, when she resigned to take advanced studies in nursing at Columbia University in New York.

According to Miss Evelyn Smith, R.N., of Port Washington, who studied under Miss Martin, “…she was a beautiful woman and an extremely exacting one. Because she always wore several well-starched petticoats, we were warned in advance of her actual appearance!”

Hospital Symbol In 1919, both hospital and the school moved to the eastside location. At this time, theory for students was taught at the hospital by nursing personnel and by members of the medical staff. A four-month affiliation at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago was offered.

Through the years and as early as 1921, the school had an agreement with Milwaukee Downer College (then located on Hartford and Downer Avenue.  The Downer College is now part of the UW-Milwaukee complex). Milwaukee Downer College made provisions to give two years of college credits to Columbia graduates, making it possible to receive a Bachelor’s degree in five years. In 1933, Ripon College offered a similar course of study (a six-year affiliation). Few students took advantage of these opportunities.

In September, 1923, five hospitals — Mt. Sinai, Deaconess, Evangelical, Milwaukee County, and Columbia — arranged to send pre-probationary nursing students to Milwaukee Vocational School for a four-month half-day period of instruction. This affiliation continued until 1975, when Columbia Nursing School students began taking required liberal arts courses at UW-Milwaukee. During the intervening years, between 2002 through 2010, two intercollegiate agreements have been established to continue the long tradition of offering nursing education to prepare nurses to serve the needs of the state of Wisconsin.

In the early years (i.e., prior to 1983), the nursing curriculum stressed clinical learning experiences with less emphasis on theoretical knowledge. Many of the young women in 1905 did not complete the program for reasons such as: “not strong enough for work,” “gave up on account of hard work,” “work unsatisfactory,” and “not fitted for the work.”

In 1926, students worked from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. The average patient load at that time was six patients. Between 1963 and 1966, nursing students worked split shifts from 7:00 to 11:00 am and from 3:00 to 7:00 pm, with classes in the afternoon hours. In 1970, students began working a 40-hour week, including clinical and class time. Patient caseloads for direct care remained high at a patient-nurse ratio of eight to nine patients per nurse. Curfew for nurses living in the residence hall was 11:00 pm. In 1976, students no longer worked long rotations of weekends, evenings, and nights. Residence life saw many changes. Curfew and study hours were eliminated. Male guests were allowed into the Residence Hall on any evening and every Sunday. Students also were allowed to wear blue jeans and slippers to class. Many students also were employed part-time by Columbia Hospital and other healthcare facilities.

In July, 1982, the Columbia Hospital Board of Trustees approved plans for a joint Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program sponsored by Columbia Hospital School of Nursing and Carroll College of Waukesha. The four-year program began in Fall, 1983. Students in the program completed studies during the first two years at Carroll College and the last two years at Columbia College of Nursing. This joint baccalaureate program in nursing was accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission in March, 1990, and the joint program ended in 2005. Upon dissolution of the agreement between the Columbia College of Nursing and Carroll College, a new partnership between Columbia College of Nursing and Mount Mary University was developed.  Students receive a joint degree from Columbia College of Nursing and Mount Mary University. IIn 2011, Columbia College of Nursing (CCON) received Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation to independently grant a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.  In 2013, CCON received HCL accreditation to grant a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

Through May, 2010, the Columbia College of Nursing has graduated approximately 3,500 nurses. There were 4 graduates in the first class in 1904, 55 in the last class of the diploma program in 1985, and 65 in the 2011 class.

The Coupeland building.Comparison of costs in the one-hundred year history is a story in itself. In 1921, a tuition fee of $25.00 was charged for the three-year program. This cost included the expenses related to room and board, a reasonable amount of plain laundry, uniforms, and textbooks.

In 1935, the costs rose. Tuition remained at $25.00, but costs of physical examinations, books, uniforms, breakage, and bus fare to and from the Vocational School brought the total tab for the three-year program to $187.00.

Tuition structure changed once more in 1940.  At this time, separate tuition fees of $80.00 and $50.00, respectively were charged for the first two years of schooling.  Because of the heavy clinical duties, no tuition was charged for the third year.  In 1940 total cost of the program was $327.50.

Students began to pay fees for all three years of the curriculum in 1959.  In 1966, tuition with room and board was $1,500.00 for three years.  By the end of the diploma program, the cost of education at Columbia Hospital School of Nursing was commensurate with the increase in the technological quality of education, as well as the increase in cost of living.  Tuition in 1982 was $5,065.00 for three years.  The fee included tuition to Carroll College and excluded any living expenses, books, or uniform.

Basic annual expenses for the first class of the four-year baccalaureate nursing program in 1984-85 was $8,140.00, which included only tuition and incidental fees, activity fee, room (with roommate), and board (minimum plan).  Today, in the 2011 academic year, a nursing student pays $ 22,540.00 for one year's tuition plus books and additional fees.

Many buildings have housed the College of Nursing throughout its more than one-hundred year history.  In 1923, the Copeland House, to the immediate west of the school on the Columbia campus, was built to house 25 nursing students.  It was known as the “Annex” in later years, until it was demolished in 1999.

From the early twenties until 1954, a structure known as the “cottage” was used at various times for occupational therapy, an employees' dormitory, and for nursing student classrooms.  Surrounded by a well-tended lawn, it stood in what was the doctors' parking lot at Columbia Hospital.

In 1956, an addition to the original 1919 building was completed, providing a laboratory, classrooms, office space, the nursing library (which was called the “Library Annex”), and a large (west) living room, which later became the College Library.

The College remained in this location until June of 2010, when the College moved to a state-of-the-art facility in Glendale, Wisconsin.  The campus is located in the Eastlake Towers Corporate Office Center.  The Academic Learning Center on the College campus houses classrooms, a Computer Learning Laboratory, a Clinical Learning Laboratory, a Simulation Center, an electronic Library, and a Student Enrichment Center.  The Academic Learning Center is equipped with state of the art technology and simulation mannequins.  The campus has Wi-Fi internet access throughout.  The Library affords students computer access to the Columbia St Mary's electronic catalog and databases, as well as more than 5,000 online journals.

A distinguishing mark of a Columbia College of Nursing graduate was the cap, which Miss Shirley Titus, then Director of Nurses introduced in 1921.  When it was first introduced, the cap was only about 4 inches square. The cap grew over the years to about 6 ½ inches square later.

In 1921, the nursing school student was given her cap after a three-month probationary period.  At the end of a second three month period, she was given a narrow black stripe to wear on the band of the cap, and an additional stripe was awarded at the beginning of each of the second and third years.  At graduation time, these narrow stripes were replaced with a wide band of black velvet.  In the 1970's, a student nurse no longer wore stripes on her cap, but the wide black band was worn by all graduates of Columbia School of Nursing.  In recent years neither students nor graduates wear a cap.

The original cap was identical to that worn by graduates of Boston Children's Hospital.  This cap appears to be only one of two schools in the country whose graduates wore this cap.  A mortarboard, always a symbol of scholarship, was the obvious inspiration for the cap's design.  Because of this significance, it was adopted by Columbia's nursing school.

In 1943, during World War II, the nursing school participated in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps.  The corps was authorized by the U.S. Public Health Service through action of Congress known as the Bolton Act.  The bill, which provided books, indoor and outdoor uniforms, and all admission and tuition fees, plus a generous stipend, was conceived as a recruitment device to meet the unfulfilled demand for military and civilian nurses.  The only requirement was a pledge to remain in some type of nursing service for the remainder of the war.  Ninety-five percent of all nursing students at that time were under this bill.  The Columbia School of Nursing accelerated its curriculum during the last six month of the three-year program, and students were available for service if needed in civilian and/or military institutions.

Through the efforts of hundreds of alumnae, members of the faculty and administration, board, committee members, friends, and physicians, Columbia College of Nursing has been able to grow and flourish throughout its 110 year history to provide the best in nursing education.


Columbia College of Nursing

4425 N. Port Washington Rd.| Glendale | WI | 53212
Phone 414-326-2330 | Fax 414-326-2331

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