The Polish Red Cross School of Nursing in Warsaw

The Polish Red Cross School of Nursing in Warsaw was established on 1929 on Smolna 6 street, the place belonging to the PRC Management Board. It was a beautiful park with two school and four hospital buildings. School management, administration, a dining room and a chapel were located on the 1st floor of the building on Smolna street. A living room with a piano, 3 bedrooms for nurses and a so-called night room for nurses after night shift, and a bathroom were on the 2nd floor. A private apartment for a director and “white boxes” – nursing bedrooms were located on the 3rd floor. A kitchen was in a basement. In another school building, joined with the first one by a wooden bridge, instructors’ rooms, an auditory, nursing laboratory, an isolation room, a night room, a bedroom and so-called “black boxes” (with dark panelling) were located. Four beds, cupboards, a table and chairs were in each box. They were quite noisy, because the building were nearby a railway bridge. The first hospital building included an internal ward with 40 beds, the second – a surgical ward with 47 beds and gynecological ward with 31 beds, as well as a operating theatre and an ambulatory. A private health care unit with single bed rooms were located on the 2nd floor, for the patients paying for stay and operations (an important part of hospital budget). An analytical laboratory and a laundry were in the third building, and in the last – a hospital administration, and apartments for hospital director and nurses.

The School’s first director since 1929 was Helena Nagórska, the next – 1936-1943 – Małgorzata Żmudzka. During the war, in 1943 the Germans deprived the School its autonomy and joined it with the Warsaw Nursing School on Koszykowa 78 street, managed by Jadwiga Romanowska until the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Małgorzata Żmudzka died during the uprising, school and hospital buildings on Smolna were damaged, the School ceased to exist.

The course was 2 years and 6 months long, in case of absence the practical training must have been made up. Before the war candidates between 18 and 35 years old were accepted, healthy, with college certificate and references from 2 persons. Education was paid (120 PLN per month), scholarships available. Moreover, an own “layette” was required – white aprons, caps, blue dresses, a cloak, black stockings and shoes and a clock. Recruitment took place twice a year. The students lived in a dormitory during the whole course.

All the graduates after receiving diplomas were obliged to work 3 years in settings indicated by the PRC.


Theoretical lecturers took 3 months and included the following subjects: anatomy and physiology, prescriptions, physics, chemistry, hygiene, bacteriology, dietetics, wound dressing, asepsis, history of nursing, Christian ethics, cooking, and gymnastics. Many time was devoted to exercises called nursing rules. White shirts, dark-blue skirts, and black shoes were obligatory that time. After lectures and exams, the students had practice training in nursing clothes – a dress, an apron, a cloak and a cap with one horizontal, velvet, black stripe. Practice training were realized in the parent hospital on internal, surgical, and gynecological wards, under permanent supervision of hospital instructors. Students’ duties included all patients’ hygiene, injections, compresses, patients’ comfort and cleanliness around them. There were 3 shifts of 8 hours each, usually a week for each shift and each ward. Equipment were cooked on nights – syringes, needles, catheters, scissors, bed-pains and other devices. All had to be aseptic and ready for use at the very morning. After 4 moths of practice and positive evaluation (on individual charts), second part of theory started. The latter included: pathology, surgery, laryngology, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacology, internal diseases, infectious diseases, newborn care, massage, and nursing history. After passing the exams from all these subjects, the students had another practice in different Warsaw hospitals. Practical training was realized also in a psychiatric hospital, a newborn and infant ward, and in a milk kitchen since 1935. During the war only a practice in an infectious hospital were closed. After such a training a student received two horizontal, narrow, black, velvet stripes on a cap and started the third part of theoretical education. The lectures included: public hygiene, eye diseases, skin and venereal diseases, mental and neural diseases, mental and school hygiene, psychology of teaching, public and home nursing, social legislation, social insurance, local and national government, statistics, civil and military hospitals’ administration, eugenics, mother and child care, hygiene promotion, tuberculosis, cancer, alcoholism, military healthcare, hospital aviation, toxicology, and the role of gymnastics. After this part of theory another horizontal, narrow, black stripe on a cap was received. Practical training was realized on adequate wards in Warsaw, also at the operating theatre.

After all trainings and final exam, the graduates received a horizontal, wide, black stripe with a PRC logo in the middle on a cap. A final exam being passed before the representatives of the Ministry of Health, the PRC Management Board, and the Ministry for Internal Affairs, consisted of theory, practice and nursing rules. During the graduation ceremony, in the presence of their families, the graduates were receiving an official diploma with a practice right, the School emblem, and – a job assignment, a mobilization card, and a lieutenant rank (the PRC was subordinated to the Ministry of Military Affairs). Then they took an oath and sung the nursing hymn. The School had had a banner since 1938, burnt by the Germans in 1944. The official part ended with a gala dinner.

The Act on Nursing Profession came into effect in 1935, detailing duration of education, age, education level, theoretical and practical curricula, and obligation of living in a dormitory. The School was so good and demanding, that its graduates had been credited two years of medical studies after the WW II. Regardless intensive course and discipline (for example every leaving the School and returning obligatory reported), the students were offered entertainments and cultural activities, like the School choir, theatre performances, Nativity plays, and other meetings, annual carnival balls with the cadets from the Medical Education Centre. Also excursions or additional courses (parachuting) were organized. The Professional Nurses’ Association became a member of the International Council of Nurses in 1925, and the Society of the PRC School of Nursing Graduates was founded in 1931.

The World War II outbreak resulted in essential changes. German authorities closed colleges of universal profiles, but they allowed for further functioning of the nursing school, as a vocational one. However, the staff were changed – a group of doctors and lecturers left. There was no characteristic nursing uniform, new students wore an apron, a cap. These clothes protected them against German round-ups.

During 5 years of occupation the School staff and most of nurses belonged to different underground organizations, and trained the civilians in first aid. When the Warsaw Uprising started on August 1, almost the whole health service in Warsaw was organized and prepared. At the beginning of August the Germans ordered leaving the School, forbade taking any personal or other things, and burnt both buildings. Then, disregarding a clear sign of the red cross, they shelled the PRC hospital, and after entering it, they ordered evacuation of the sick and robbed an equipment. The nurses caring for the sick had been moving them from place to place, looking for a safe shelter against permanent shelling. A few of them died. After capitulation on October 2, 1944, a group of nurses together with partisans were sent to different POW camps. After the war not all the graduates or students returned to Poland, some of them stayed abroad.

Elaborated by Kamila Łukaszewicz

Literature: Zdzisław Abramek, Szkoła Pielęgniarstwa Polskiego Czerwonego Krzyża w Warszawie. Polski Czerwony Krzyż. Mazowiecki Zarząd Okręgowy w Warszawie. Warszawa 2003.