Could you imagine this ? At hospital’s helm, nurse was ‘hands on’ | Hazleton, Pa. News | standardspeaker.com - The Standard Speaker
When a young woman began her training at the Pittston School of Nursing, she was required to take a pledge to “pass her life in purity,” “abstain from whatever is mischievous” and “do all in her power to elevate the standards of the profession.”
To ensure that the trainee kept her word, Esther Tinsley watched over her like a hawk, ready to correct any misstep at a moment’s notice. Tinsley, the chief executive at Pittston Hospital, was a tough-minded administrator with demanding expectations.
Schedules were rigid, the hours were long and the rules were strict. Woe to the young nurse whose hair fell to her collar. Tinsley would reprimand the offender on the spot. In fact, her authority was so extensive that nursing students worried about wearing shorts in public during their occasional weekend breaks for fear that Tinsley would spot them and deliver a lecture on modesty.
Though she was a force to be reckoned with, Tinsley was also an extremely caring individual whose approach to mentoring might be best described as “tough love” today. During her 61 years at Pittston Hospital, she established a model nursing school with graduates who were in high demand at area hospitals.
What’s more, those nurses went on to save many lives during the course of their careers because of the discipline Tinsley instilled in them.
Born in Plymouth in 1886, Esther Tinsley was the eldest of seven children of a devout Catholic family. After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in Wilkes-Barre, she matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing in Philadelphia, where she earned her degree as a registered nurse in 1910.
Tinsley stayed at Penn for an additional year, serving as the supervisor of the operating room. Returning to the Wyoming Valley in 1911, she was instrumental in the establishment of the Nesbitt Memorial Hospital in Kingston and its School of Nursing. Two years later, she became the superintendent of nursing at Pittston Hospital.
Pittston Hospital, opened in 1893, was just a 32-bed, two-ward facility that operated on a modest budget.
Originally, admission was restricted to miners, but with the poor quality of health care in the town, the hospital was quickly forced to open its doors to a variety of patients. Fees were $1 per day since most of the patients were poor. To supplement its meager income, the hospital opened a farm to produce food.
Tinsley quickly earned the reputation of a “hands on” administrator. She immediately improved the quality of education at the hospital’s nursing school, which had been founded 10 years earlier. When the hospital launched a building campaign for $300,000 to expand its facilities in 1925, Tinsley made sure to raise the money for the most up-to-date equipment. If the laborer who tended to the farm’s 12 cows, 12 pigs and 2,000 chickens was ill, she wasn’t too proud to milk the cows, feed the pigs and collect the eggs.
Tinsley’s example was extremely progressive for the time period, but consistent with her strong conviction in women’s rights. Not only was she an active suffragette who marched for a woman’s right to vote, but she raised a newborn baby who was abandoned at the hospital in 1924. She named the girl “Catherine” and reared her if she were her own daughter.
To be sure, Tinsley’s family were the nurses she trained, and she instilled in them the same work ethic, responsibility and independence she valued. Nursing students began classes in September, and by November, they were spending four-hour morning shifts in the hospital before attending classes in the afternoon. After receiving their caps in February, nurses worked in the hospital from 3 to 11 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Nurses and nursing students were expected to attend midnight Mass at St. John’s Catholic Church. To make sure, Tinsley would lead them down the aisle, looking resplendent in her blue cape, white uniform, cap and shoes. She also had her own table in the hospital dining hall where she presided over each meal, checking in with her charges when necessary.
Tinsley’s nurses were well-disciplined and extremely competent as a result of her training.
“She was very controlling,” recalled Joan McFadden of Pittston, a nursing supervisor at the hospital in the 1960s and ’70s. “But it was because she wanted to turn out the best nurses in the world. Nobody ever had a problem getting a job.”
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy recognized Tinsley’s contribution to Pittston Hospital, congratulating her on “the world’s record for holding one position in hospital administration,” an achievement that had become a rarity by that time.
When the nurses graduated, Tinsley would send them off with a final piece of advice: “You now have a profession that will allow you to provide for yourself and your family. Don’t ever become any man’s meal ticket.”
By the time Tinsley retired in 1974 at age 88, Pittston Hospital had grown into a 120-bed, five-story facility with a fine national reputation in health care. She lived another eight years in the nurses’ home.
“The girls, who took care of her when she was bedridden, said she was fussy and demanding,” said Betty Milazzo of the Greater Pittston Historical Society. “But that was consistent with her personality. She had been a very dynamic woman during her lifetime. She was stern and strict, but she also had a kind heart and took care of her nurses well.”
Tinsley died in 1981, within days of the closing of Pittston Hospital.
Unable to adapt the facility to modern technology or to meet new federal regulations, the board decided to merge its institution with the Nanticoke and Wyoming Valley hospitals to become NPW Medical Center. The Pittston School of Nursing continued for another three years before shutting its doors in 1984.
Today, the five-story brick structure that once housed Pittston Hospital is used for professional office space and is known as the Overlook Professional Center. Its fifth floor is being refurbished to resemble the original hospital and to house the collections of the Pittston historical society.
In 2007, the society produced a 27-minute documentary film on Tinsley and the Pittston Hospital. “Haven on the Hill” covers the plan to establish the hospital in the 1880s through its closing in 1981 with a special focus on Tinsley’s 61-year reign as chief administrator.
William Kashatus teaches history at Luzerne County Community College. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.