SHAW, FLORA MADELINE, nurse and educator; b. 15 Jan. 1864 in Perth, Upper Canada, daughter of Henry Dowsley Shaw and Flora Madeline Matheson; d. unmarried 27 Aug. 1927 in Liverpool, England.
An early leader in nursing education in Canada, Flora Madeline Shaw was born into a prominent family. Both of her grandfathers, James Shaw* and Roderick Matheson*, were businessmen and members of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. An aunt, one of the early graduates in nursing of New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, most likely influenced her decision to go into nursing.
In 1894 Shaw entered the nursing school of the Montreal General Hospital, established four years earlier by Gertrude Elizabeth Livingston, the first such school in the province of Quebec. Shaw graduated in 1896. Because of her evident administrative and teaching abilities, she was appointed second assistant to Livingston, the school’s superintendent, and she held the post for three years.
After a short stay as head of a small women’s hospital in Boston, Shaw returned to Montreal in 1900 to become Livingston’s first assistant. Between 1904 and 1906 she attended Teachers’ College at Columbia University, studying teaching in schools of nursing. After other nursing-related work in New York, she once again returned to the Montreal General Hospital, to take charge of a new project introduced there and at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto: a program of preliminary instruction for probationary nursing students.
Not content only with teaching and concerned about the professional status of nurses across Canada, Shaw represented the Montreal General Hospital Alumnae Association at the founding meeting of the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses in 1908, where she was appointed secretary-treasurer. The following year tuberculosis, a common scourge of nurses at the time, forced her to retire for a time from active work. She spent some time in sanatoriums and later travelled abroad. By 1914 she was a volunteer social worker for the Montreal branch of the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
In 1920, after working on a committee to promote university education for nurses, she was asked to accept the position of director of the McGill School for Graduate Nurses. Until this time nursing education in Canada had been limited to hospital schools. The McGill school offered an eight-month certificate course aimed at creating a cadre of qualified nurses to teach and to take administrative positions in Canadian nursing schools. An eight-month nursing course in public health was also offered.
Shaw took a cautious approach to the development of the school, insisting that, to ensure success, it take on only what it could handle. Thus she argued against adding a two-year degree course until the school was well established. In addition to being responsible for administration, she did most of the teaching on nursing subjects herself. She had taken at her own expense a six-week refresher course at Columbia just before assuming her duties. She was innovative and thorough in her teaching. An ongoing concern of the profession to improve the qualifications of working nurses was concretized under her direction, when extension courses for working nurses in Montreal were jointly sponsored by the school and the Association of Registered Nurses of the Province of Quebec (ARNPQ) between 1923 and 1926. She served as president of the Canadian Association of Nurse Education from 1922 to 1924.
In addition to her pioneering work in nursing education, Shaw played a significant role in improving the professional status of nursing in Canada. As president of the ARNPQ between 1922 and 1926, she was involved in fashioning amendments to its charter. These amendments, passed in 1925, aimed at improving standards for nursing and nursing education in Quebec. In 1926 she was chosen head of the Canadian Nurses’ Association. Earlier, she had been asked to preside at a round table held during the 1925 meeting of the International Council of Nurses in Finland. On her way back from a conference of the international council in Geneva in 1927, she fell ill and died in the Liverpool Royal Infirmary.
Shaw was recognized both nationally and internationally as a leader in nursing education. The Flora Madeline Shaw Chair of Nursing at McGill was established in her memory in 1957.
MUA, RG 64, c.10, files 19, 22. Édouard Desjardins, Heritage: history of the nursing profession in Quebec from the Augustinians and Jeanne Mance to Medicare, trans. Hugh Shaw (Montreal, 1971). H. E. MacDermot, History of the School of Nursing of the Montreal General Hospital (Montreal, 1940; repr. 1961). “School for Graduate Nurses,” McGill News (Montreal), 2, no.1 (December 1920): 16. B. L. Tunis, In caps and gowns: the story of the School for Graduate Nurses, McGill University, 1920–1964 (Montreal, 1966).