Who Was Alice Fisher?

Alice Fisher was a nursing pioneer who came to the United States from England in 1884 to start the Training School for Nurses of the Philadelphia General Hospital and assume the role of chief nurse. Archival documents reveal Fisher was celebrated for transforming nursing and medical care at the institution. Here’s what ADVANCEweb.com uncovered:

*Fisher trained at the Florence Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas Hospital in London in 1875.

*Archival writings state Fisher accepted the position for an annual salary of $800; in 1885 the salary was increased to $1,000, and in 1886 an assistant was provided for Fisher at a salary of $600 per year.

*The Training School for Nurses of the Philadelphia General Hospital was started with about one dozen students.

*The portion of the main hospital building that had formerly been occupied by children was remodeled and repaired for a home for the nurses. Reception and class rooms were provided for them, and ward rooms were divided into sleeping apartments.

*Fisher served in the chief nurse position continuing the development of nursing at the Philadelphia General Hospital until the time of her death from heart disease on June 3rd, 1888 – just four years after starting her work at the facility that was originally known as the Blockley Almshouse, a charity hospital.

*Marion E. Smith, a graduate of the Training School for Nurses, succeeded Fisher in the Philadelphia General Hospital chief nurse position.

*Fisher is buried at The Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, close to the former Philadelphia General Hospital grounds that are still partially outlined with a remaining brick wall that features decorated iron railing.

*At a one year death anniversary celebration held at the Philadelphia General Hospital on Tuesday, May 28, 1889, Fisher’s physician Dr. J. William White, then the senior surgeon of the hospital, delivered the address, including the following remarks: “During the years she spent here she saw order and neatness and cleanliness replace disorder and slovenliness and filth; she saw an intelligent and beneficent system evolved from a chaos of ignorance and neglect; she saw a largely-increased population taken care of with a decreased mortality and with a simply incalculable addition to their comfort and happiness and self-respect; she saw hundreds of our most intelligent and most charitable citizens visiting and taking an active interest in an institution of which previously they had scarcely known either the name or the location; she saw her pupils going from this hospital to take positions of honor and to spread her teaching in all parts of the country.”

* Philadelphia General Hospital nurses and friends presented a brass tablet at the May 28, 1889 anniversary ceremony that measured 3 and a half feet by 2 and a half feet that read: “Alice Fisher. Born at Queen’s House, Greenwich, June 14, 1839. Died at this Hospital, June 3, 1888. CHIEF NURSE of the Philadelphia Hospital Training School for Nurses, from November, 1884, until her death. By her knowledge, capacity and fitness for the place, and above all, by her devotion and her personal character, this training school for nurses was established. The benefits that have resulted to the hospital, to its patients, and to the community are the works that follow her.”

*The first anniversary sermon was delivered on Sunday, June 2, 1889 featuring the following epitaph:

Alice Fisher,
Chief Nurse of the Philadelphia Hospital.
Buried at Woodlands, June 5, 1888.
In a strange land, a stranger! Low we laid her,
Coffin’d in English oak; her only pall
The flag ‘neath which her sailor fathers conquer’d-
Like them, in stress of battle did she fall.

Only a stranger! Yet our city honors
With best and foremost sons this sad array; 
And strong men weep; and the triumphant singing
Breaks into sobs of grief above her clay.

Only a stranger! With us four short winters!
“The English nurse,” men called her, as they smiled
In scorn, that we should need her, soon forgetting
The friend they loved was not Columbia’s child.

But now she is our own! For other strangers-
Our poor and sick-her very life she gave!
Oh, mother country, glorying in thy heroes,
She is our own forever, by this grave!

–Scott Hatfield

Sources: History of the Philadelphia Almshouses and Hospitals, Compiled and Published by Charles Lawrence Superintendent From 1891 to 1900 (1905). Alice Fisher, Chief Nurse of the Training School for Nurses, Philadelphia Hospital; published in Philadelphia for the one-year anniversary of Alice Fisher’s death (1889).

About The Author