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Carolyn Ladd Widmer

By Sten Spinella
On March 11, 2014

  • The Carolyn Ladd Widmer wing of the School of Nursing was named after the school’s first dean of nursing in 1942. Ashely Maher/The Daily Campus

Carolyn Ladd Widmer, the University of Connecticut's first dean of nursing, is the woman whose namesake is borne by the school's newly implemented wing.
It was not until 1937 that various Connecticut public health professionals began to talk about forming a school to educate nurses in the state. Three years after delaying the idea, an 18-member-committee put it into action, spearheading a proposal called: "A School of Nursing for Connecticut" in 1941. The plan was to create a degree worth between 33 and 36 credits, with majors including nursing education and public health nursing. UConn decided to accept the plan. In the fall of 1942, students were accepted to the dean-less school, but Widmer was soon named dean in the summer of the same year.
Widmer went to school at Wellesley and Yale, eventually traveling abroad to spread the benefits of public health nursing. Before she was 30 years old, Widmer worked in Colombia, down in South America, before subsequently moving to set up the Collegiate School of Nursing, which was in concordance with the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
As World War II began, Widmer took her two small children away from the foreign land and arrived back at America in 1940. Often deemed a "nursing pioneer," UConn President Albert Jorgensen took notice of Widmer's reputation, offering her the chance to lead UConn's newfound nursing school into the 20th century. She accepted the offer.
One of Widmer's sons, Eric, a former professor and dean at Brown, said this of his late mother:
"She had a great interest in the humanities as well as the sciences, and two distinct groups would descend on our house in Storrs, one from the English department they loved my mother, who was so beautifully educated, widely read and with a great sense of humor and the other, all the nurses, both faculty and students. My boyhood was full of these interesting people, most of them women, and all of them orbiting around my mother."
The Carolyn Ladd Widmer wing was unveiled on Nov. 2 of 2011. The Wing spans 15,800 feet, has a large lecture hall, clinical labs and a wealth of technology necessary for nursing. Connected to Augustus Storrs Hall, what has come to be called Widmer's Wing is in the center of campus.
The Wing is not Widmer's only lasting proof of her legacy. The American Community School at Beirut has named a scholarship after her, honoring her years as president of their nursing school from 1932-1938.
It must be noted that in Widmer's long and successful career, she was also a published author. Widmer's The History of the "University of Connecticut School of Nursing, 1942-1981" was published in 1990.
Ted Widmer, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton and noted historian, had this to say of his grandmother:
"She seemed to never stop learning."

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