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June 24, 1918

When the United States entered the war in 1917, a special trustee committee set out to find a way for the college “to have some definite, necessary and helpful part in its prosecution.” The result, the Training Camp for Nurses at Vassar College, welcomed 435 young women—from 42 states and graduates of 115 colleges and universities—to an intensive summer-long course of study designed to reduce the usual three years of nurses’ training to two. Organized under the auspices of the National Defense Council, supported and partially funded by the American Red Cross and directed by Professor of Economics Herbert Mills, the camp drew its faculty from Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Yale and other institutions.

The recruiting pamphlet set the tone for the program:

“We shall assume at the outset that you are not simply a dabbler or a sentimental dreamer, but a serious, practical, patriotic girl or woman sincerely anxious to throw your energies and your abilities into some form of work that is really going to count.” Meeting that challenge, 418 of the original enrollees finished the course in September. One of them, Katherine Densford Dreves, summed up the spirit of the program:

“Imagine daily rising at the crack of dawn, followed by corridor setting-up exercises, bed making and before breakfast, damp dusting your room all around and as high as you could reach (my reach was high). Then came eight hours of class and laboratory, with lights out at 10PM. We had military company formation; I was the elected sergeant of Company F, Squad 1.

“Illustrative of group morale—one day Dean Mills announced in chapel that the next day, July 4, was a holiday. Smiles! He then said we should decide whether we would take a holiday or continue with our regular schedule. A group sigh! And then—cheerfully we continued with our regular schedule.”

Katharine Densford Dreves, “Vassar Training Camp for Nurses,” American Journal of Nursing, 1975

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