130 Years & Going Strong

This year marks the 130- year anniversary of the institution now known as Clarkson College. Its history is long and storied, but every part holds significant value for all who enter its doors. As we reflect on the journey that brought us to where we are today, we explore a handful of the many events and people that shaped us over the years.

Our History 

A dedication to caring has defined our institution since Bishop Robert Harper Clarkson and his wife Meliora established the Children’s Hospital in 1881. The institution adopted Bishop Clarkson’s name following his death in 1884 and became the Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital in honor of his commitment to serving the people of Omaha. The hospital kept Bishop Clarkson’s vision alive by establishing a relationship between the institution and the Episcopal Church. To solidify the partnership, they installed deaconesses from the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral as some of the hospital’s first caregivers. A thriving nurse training school under Meliora’s careful leadership emerged from this arrangement. 

A young woman named Mary Olive Graham arrived at Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital and entered the training program in 1888 as its first student. She left the institution two years later in 1890 as a trained nurse. Many sources list two graduates in the training school’s inaugural class, but the College discovered much later that early alumnae lists actually identified Graham twice: once by her maiden name and once by her married name, Mrs. J. Sykes. She was the first of thousands of health care professionals to receive training from the institution over the next 130 years. 

The next decades proved significant in forming the school’s foundation and setting its standards for excellence. The institution graduated five nurses just 10 years after Graham completed her education, and that number grew to 12 graduates by 1930. The numbers continued to rise with 42 graduates completing the program in 1970 and 142 earning their diplomas in 2000. 

Today, the College conducts one graduation ceremony each fall, spring and summer semester, and approximately 400 students from all academic programs receive their diplomas each year. Graduates continue to make significant strides in their professional practice, as they draw on the education that they received at Clarkson College.

Our Locations 

A small, wood-framed building at 1716 Dodge Street served as both the hospital and nurse accommodations when Bishop Clarkson and Meliora founded the organization in 1881. The hospital left these humble beginnings behind in 1883 and built a three-story building mirroring the Trinity Cathedral architecture where the program’s first graduate, Mary Olive Graham, lived and worked. Nursing students continued to live in one single room during the training school’s early years, but they moved to a small cottage in 1908 that was adjacent to the hospital’s new location at 2100 Howard Street. 

Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital purchased the Lord Lister hospital building at 26th and Dewey Streets in 1936. The new accommodations provided more housing for student nurses and was closer to the University Hospital located at 42nd and Emile Streets where students obtained their pediatric and obstetric training. When the building became outdated and fell into disrepair in 1944, the hospital broke ground on a new dormitory at 518-528 South 26th Street, which still stands today. 

Students continued to live in the new building until the hospital suspended admission to the school of nursing in 1953. The training school graduated its last class in 1955, the same year the organization built a new hospital at 42nd and Dewey Streets. After remaining closed for five years, the school received a generous donation from Peter and Evelyn Kiewit to construct a new building north of the hospital. The Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing reopened its doors on Sept. 12, 1960 and graduated its first class of 35 students in 1963. Many students resided in the new Kiewit Hall dormitory and attended school thanks to a $30,000 scholarship donation from the Genevieve Armstrong estate. 

The Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing moved to its current location at 42nd and Dodge Streets and changed its name to Clarkson College in 1992. Student housing moved one year later to the Villa apartments after Kiewit Hall became part of The Nebraska Medical Center (now Nebraska Medicine) campus. The current campus continued to take shape in 2004 when the College built a 140-bed, apartment- style Residence Hall and Student Center complete with a Bookstore, Howard Hall and Success Center. 

Our Academic Programs 

Academic changes began in the first part of the 20th century when nurse training moved from a two- to three-year program in 1903. The school continued to offer the three-year program under the hospital’s direction until the last half of the 20th century when nursing education aligned with the Baccalaureate degree. When the shift occurred, the school stepped out of the hospital’s shadow in 1991 and became Bishop Clarkson College. 

The College received State Board of Nursing approval to become a four-year nursing educational program in 1980 thanks to the hard work and dedication of Dr. Patricia Perry and her faculty. Their success continued the following year when the institution received approval from the Nebraska Coordinating Commission to become a Baccalaureate degree-granting program. The College reached a crucial point in establishing itself as a leader in higher education when it appointed its own Board of Directors in 1987 and named Dr. Perry the first President of Bishop Clarkson College. 

The institution decided to expand its educational offerings by establishing the Master of Science
in Nursing, Master of Science in Health Services Management and Associate of Science degree in Radiography program options in the early 1990s. The College implemented the Physical Therapist Assistant program in 1994 and added the Health Information Management, Health Care Business and Community Health programs in the next two decades. The first doctoral-level degrees offered by the College came into existence in 2012 when the Higher Learning Commission approved the Doctor of Nursing Practice and Doctor in Health Care Education and Leadership degree options. 

While venturing into a wide range of health care fields, the College never forgot its roots and continued to expand its Nursing offerings. Bachelor’s and Master’s degree options for registered nurses, Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Nurse Anesthesia and Post-Master’s certificate in Nursing options continue to offer opportunities for nurses at all levels. 

Our Alumni 

Minerva Ryley graduated from the Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing in 1898 and was instrumental in forming the Alumnae Association in 1910. She created the organization to promote the training school’s advancement, increase interest in the nursing profession and establish a fund to benefit active members with physical afflictions. Ryley was known as the oldest living graduate for many years and remained an active College community member by participating in ceremonies and events until the 1960s. Her vivacious personality, dedication to education and love for the nursing profession made her an excellent role model for students and her fellow health care professionals. 

The Alumni Association grew over the years and remained active between 1955 and 1960 when the school closed. Its expansion allowed the Association to broaden its original objective, and its members now have the opportunity to provide student scholarships, plan alumni activities, support student programs and offer educational events. 

Our Traditions 

Clarkson College is proud of its many traditions. While some have been lost over the years, others continue to prevail. One tradition that remains is our proud display of the Maltese Cross, a symbol that represents the heart of the College. The Cross is composed of eight distinct points that represent the eight Beatitudes given in the Sermon on the Mount. Originally worn by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem who dedicated themselves to charity toward the sick and poor in hospitals, the Maltese Cross remains a symbol of protection and badge of honor. 

The shield that surrounds the Maltese Cross is a nod to the former Nebraska Health Systems (NHS) logo, which was created when the Clarkson and University hospitals merged in 1996–97. When the first Clarkson College logo was created in the early 1990s, the institution wanted to pay homage to its educational partner by incorporating the NHS shield element into the College logo. This tribute continued during the College 2010 rebrand, which produced the logo as we know it today. 

The annual crowning of Ms. Clarkson is another tradition that continues to persist since its inception in 1943. Anna Marie Baltensperger (’43) was the first student to receive the honor, and after male students began to enroll at the College, Darrell Kuster (’78, ’85) became the first Mr. Clarkson in 1978. The crowning of Mr. and Ms. Clarkson continues to this day as away for students to honor their peers who exemplify the Clarkson College Values of Learning, Integrity, Commitment, Caring and Excellence. 

While maintaining our established customs, the College community continues to institute new traditions that honor our rich history and upholdour Values. Beginning fall 2018, the College will implement Spirit Week, a new tradition that will celebrate each of our five Values. Each day of Spirit Week will highlight one Value. Community members will have the opportunity to participate in events and activities that reflect that day’s chosen Value. The first Spirit Week will take place during the last week of September 2018 and will culminate with the Alumni Weekend events. 

Our Service 

No tradition is more significant to our history than the underlying philosophy of compassion and caring exhibited by Bishop Robert and Meliora Clarkson. Service played a significant role in the history of the College, but there are two periods that exceptionally demonstrate our students’ unwavering dedication to caring. 

When World War I broke out, the Red Cross required 200 nurses to travel overseas and care for the wounded. Five Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing students volunteered to serve their country and help meet the demand for qualified health care professionals. After being placed on alert, they received their diplomas and entered the armed forces before graduation. Their departure created a nursing shortage at the hospital, so their fellow nursing students stepped in to take on vacant staff roles. When France needed nurses later during the war, seven more students answered the call and departed to serve the wounded in Europe. 

The onset of World War II prompted another nursing shortage, and Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing students were once again encouraged to join the Cadet Corps to care for the wounded in Europe. Thirty-one students followed their predecessors’ example and joined the Corps in 1942 where they had the opportunity to offer their caring services to the wounded of all nations. 

Generations of Clarkson College students have been called to a life spent in service to others, a commitment upheld by Bishop Robert and Meliora Clarkson since the institution’s earliest days. Our academic programs weave service learning into the curriculum, and students’ commitment to caring begins the moment they enter the classroom. Along with College faculty and staff, students complete nearly 8,000 hours of community service every year, a true testament to Clarkson College and its legacy of caring for others. 

These historical snapshots offer a glimpse into a vast history that led the organization to where it is today. As each day passes and new events shape our story, we continue to build upon this strong foundation as it guides us to a prosperous future.