The University School of Nurses and Health Carers (Hygienists) in Cracow

The University School of Nurses and Health Carers (Hygienists) in Cracow started it’s activity on December 10th, 1925. It was organized by the founders and graduates of the School of Professional Nurses run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The so-called “old Cracow school” was established in 1911, initiated by Maria Epstein, Anna Rydlówna, Joanna Stryjeńska, Maria Wiszniewska, and Maria BUszyńska, thanks to the Daughters’ of Charity support. This initiative resulted from a modern attitude towards care for the sick, and the need for professional, educated nurses. It was warmly welcomed by the medical community, and supported by the professors of the Jagiellonian University. It worked in the years 1911-1921, with a break during the World War I. It was graduated by 41 students, very highly valued by the society, and became a model followed by next generations of nurses. The School of Professional Nurses run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul influenced establishment and development of the secular nursing in Poland.

After the WWI the school faced many difficulties, it hardly answered the need for professional care for the society destroyed by the war and epidemics. M. Epstein, supported by many professors of the Jagiellonian University, Faculty of Medicine, asked the American Red Cross for help in organization of a modern nursing school in Cracow. However, she was refused. Not becoming discouraged, she had asked the Rockefeller Foundation for help, which she received soon. Ms Elizabeth F. Crowell and Mr E.R. Emerce, the Foundation’s representatives, arrived to Poland and declared their participation in organization of the school, if only the state accepts its’ need and support it at either at the very beginning or in following activities, as well as it is organized with the Jagiellonian University share.

The university doctors, cooperating with the nurses from “the old school”, emerged a strong supporting group for the initiative of a new one. They included – among others – Prof. A. Rosner, Prof. M. Rutkowski, Prof. K. Kostanecki, Prof. E. Godlewski, Prof. J. Kostrzewski. They made a lot for the establishment of a nursing school as an individual educational unit, with it’s own rules, included in the Faculty of Medicine structure.

The Rockefeller Foundation offered approximately 100 thousands USD for construction and adaptation of the building, equipment, partial maintenance in the first years, as well as for scholarships for less-wealthy students. The Polish government obliged itself to offer a building, to participate in it’s maintenance, to pay salaries for the teachers, and ensure the school’s further development. The Jagiellonian University’s obligation was to organize place for internships, and tutelage over the school.

The Committee for School Construction was established in 1924, chaired by Prof. Aleksander Rosner.

The School was run by the School of Professional Nurses run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul graduates. The University School of Nurses was the first Polish nursing school run from the very beginning by Polish nurses only. The teachers’ team was lead by Maria Epstein as a director. Other managerial positions were taken by Anna Rydlówna, Maria Wiszniewska, Elżbieta Borkowska, and Teresa Kulczyńska. Graduates of the Warsaw Nursing School were teaching – Hanna Chrzanowska, Jadwiga Jasińska, Maria Ptaszyńska, Zofia Tuszowska, and – from the Poznań School of Nursing – Małgorzata Wilkońska. The Rockefeller Foundation funded them scholarships abroad. Each of them was taught in the area she was to be teaching in the School. For example – Maria Epstein – school management (half year in France, Austria, England, and Belgium); T. Kulczyńska – a year course in social nursing (Canada); Anna Rydlówna – nursing rules and techniques (England, US).

The candidates’ enrollment was run under very specific criteria, like in other first Polish schools of nursing, including: excellent moral attitude, at least 6 classes of secondary education, well health status, quite well economic status.

The School was run in a mix-system. After the first (16 weeks) period of theoretical teaching, exercises, lessons in instruction hall, and 2 hours of hospital practice, the period of joined practical and theoretical teaching followed. After the first year of preparatory course, cycles of clinical courses followed, and internship in clinics and wards of Saint Lazarus Hospital.

Education methods were based mostly on individual, model behavior of the teachers. Their attitudes were a living testimony of values and rules.

The students’ works and behavior were evaluated monthly, and openly. A student were entitled to explain or question opinion she did not agree. The University School for Nurses – as the first one – introduced the students’ council.

The final exam was passed in the school, before a state commission accepted by the Ministry for Internal Affairs, and later by the Ministry for Social Care, the Health Care System Department. Until 1936 the graduates received a diploma issued by the Jagiellonian University, and a certificate of passing a state exam issued by the Health Care System Department.

High quality education, reliable work, and faultless attitude of the graduates resulted in their appreciation, esteem, and high position in the society and the Jagiellonian University authorities.

Here is one of the anecdotes of the School history.

In it’s beginnings, when the statute’s project was being prepared, one had proposed the name – the University School for Nurses and Hygienists. This name was questioned by the hygiene professor at the University, saying, that “any miss” cannot be called a hygienist, if he is a hygienist. It was quite not-understandable, because school hygienists had been working for years, after only a short course of instruction. However, the protest was accepted and the name settled as “The University School of Nurses and Health Carers”, with hygienists in brackets added in the statute’s project. The new statute’s project, of July 26th, 1935, prepared just after the Act on Nursing had been published, changed the schools name for “The University School for Nurses and Hygienists”. However, there was another, worse name “The University School of Nursing and Public Health Carers” on it’s fronton, until the building was taken over by the Germans in 1940.


Elaborated by Jadwiga Gnich, based on: Jadwiga Kaniewska-Iżycka, Rozwój pielęgniarstwa w Polsce do roku 1950. Cz. 2. Warszawa: CMDNŚSzM, 1989.