In 1959, U of T lecturer Ruth Farnden (centre, without cap) instructs nursing students in the Mount Sinai Hospital maternity ward on how to bathe a newborn. The students – called Bluebirds because of their blue dresses and starched white aprons – were six of 30 enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
Ruth had been just 24 when Nettie Fidler, the director of U of T’s School of Nursing, phoned to ask her to teach at the school. “The Dickens I know why she chose me,” says Ruth (BSc Nursing 1957, BA 1959 Woodsworth, MHSc 1986) modestly. Since graduating, Ruth had practiced with the Victorian Order of Nurses, visiting new mothers and their babies. Enrolment at the School of Nursing had doubled in the previous five years, making the director somewhat desperate for teachers. “It was all hands to the pump,” recalls Ruth.
On her first day as a classroom lecturer, Ruth froze when she came face to face with the Bluebirds. But eventually she was in the delivery room, teaching them the progress of labour and how to assist with deliveries. She also taught them how to suction amniotic fluid from the newborn’s mouth and nose and how to sterilize surgical instruments for episiotomies, which were common then. Often absent from the delivery room was the father, who was seldom allowed to even hold his baby until leaving the hospital, usually four to seven days postpartum.
“It was commonly accepted that beer was good for getting lactation started,” recalls Ruth, now 82. Then she hesitates, as if wondering if she should go on. “OK, so beer was offered, but it was kept out of sight.”