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Who was the Woman in White? Mary Clymer, the nurse in the Agnew Clinic

The digitized lecture and ward notes of Mary V. Clymer, 1889 graduate of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Training School for Nurses, illuminate the experience of 19th century student nurses.

The Bates Center’s recently digitized lecture and ward notes of Mary V. Clymer, 1889 graduate of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Training School for Nurses, illuminate the experience of 19th century student nurses.

Mary V. Clymer was a student at the Training School for Nurses of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, from 1887 to 1889. The digitized notes were taken by Clymer during her training at HUP from 1888 to 1889. They document the variety of experiences which were part of her educational program at the School which included rotations in the hospital wards where she performed assigned duties under supervision of nursing school faculty and nursing staff employed by the hospital; as well as attendance at formal lectures taught by the medical school faculty. While early nursing education programs were little more than apprenticeships, the presence of trained nurses with their emphasis on cleanliness, orderliness and close observation of patients successfully transformed hospitals into scientific institutions of caring. 

Clymer is believed to have been the nurse portrayed in Thomas Eakins’ painting, The Agnew Clinic. In the painting, she is standing next to a group of physicians who are performing a surgical procedure on a patient at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School before an audience of medical students as the faculty member and surgeon, Dr. D. Hayes Agnew, conducts the clinic. 

Clymer graduated from the School in 1889, at which time she was awarded the Nightingale medal. Like many of her fellow classmates, Clymer went on to private duty nursing after graduation, a respected professional career.

Learn more about Mary Clymer and view her notes here