Margaret Elliot Francis Sirch, RN (1867-1954)

Profiles in Nursing

Margaret Elliot Francis Sirch, RN (1867-1954)

Editor of the first nursing journal, Nightingale

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Her career was decided by a toss of a penny, but fortunately for our profession, Margaret Elliot Francis Sirch chose nursing over medical research.

While Sirch was still a student at Buffalo General Hospital School of Nursing, Roswell Park, M.D., the founder of Roswell Park Institute, asked her to work in his lab on bacteriological studies related to cancer. Instead, a coin toss led Sirch to become her school’s acting superintendent during the last six months of her training.

Sirch assumed the superintendent position permanently after her graduation in 1887. Although her 12-hour shifts were often stretched by emergencies, she loved nursing and saw it as the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

Nursing Journals
In 1888, Sirch took on a new challenge: In that era, graduate nurses were often isolated from scientific breakthroughs. To rectify that problem, she conceived the idea of a journal that would keep nurses abreast of professional developments.

Her first effort was the scholarly The Nightingale, which saw only limited circulation. However, with the backing of Alfred Rose, a Buffalo businessman, Sirch launched the country’s first permanent, nationally circulated, monthly nursing journal. The first issue, published in 1888 under the title Trained Nurse, included an overview of nursing through the years written by one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Christian of Schlesweig-Holstein, the president of England’s Royal Nurses Association and a founding member of the Red Cross. Later issues, several of which are now available online, featured detailed continuing education material across all nursing specialties.

Juggling her joint responsibilities as school superintendent and journal editor soon proved to be too much even for someone as young and energetic as Sirch and she resigned from both jobs in 1889. Her fatigue was only temporary, because by 1894, she had established three new hospitals: two in New York and one in Wisconsin.

She turned next to private nursing, spending a year accompanying her patient around Europe. When she returned to the United States, she married Charlemagne Sirch, an electrical engineer. They moved to California in 1903.

Public Health Innovations
The magazine Sirch had founded continued to thrive, and in 1909, an article on visiting nurses piqued her interest enough that she decided to enter public health nursing. Her entry into the field was made easier by a new law that allowed married women to work for public agencies in California.

In 1913, she was appointed the first chief nurse for the Los Angeles Department of Health’s newly established Bureau of Nursing. As the bureau’s “special nurse,” she advocated the establishment of regions for nurses rather than giving the nurses specific assignments. Her argument was that nurses knew the patients in their areas and could better serve them in this way.

Her other innovative suggestions included city-sponsored summer baths for children and using public school rooms as infant welfare stations during the long summer breaks.

Later Career
In 1915, Sirch was appointed an agent of the California Board of Charities and Correction (later the Department of Social Welfare). Sirch’s supervision and activism in this role led to the passage of legal standards for custodial institutions, children’s hospitals and day nurseries.

The department grew under her leadership, transforming institutions that previously had more detrimental than beneficial to the public health into modern hospitals. By the time she reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1937, she was district supervisor of all the territory south of Tehachapi.

Trained Nurse eventually became Trained Nurse and Hospital Review and in 1950 was renamed Nursing World. It survived until 1960.  

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