Tag Archives: health

Not Just Superheroes Wear Capes: Cora Stahn’s Fairview Hospital Nursing Cape

This navy colored, wool cape was worn by Cora Eleanor (Hanson) Stahn during her years as a nursing student (1942-1944) at the Fairview Hospital School of Nursing in Minneapolis. Capes were given out to nursing students in the 1940s and early 1950s, and used by nurses into the 1960s. A student would wear her cape as she traveled from her dorm to the hospital: keeping the designated white nurses uniform clean underneath.

Cora herself was born in Granite Falls, MN in 1922 to Henry T. and Mary Hanson. After moving to Minneapolis to attend nursing school, she met her future husband Dr. Louis H. Stahn. The two married in 1945 and following the birth of their three children the family moved to Fergus Falls in 1955, and eventually to the St. Cloud area. Cora (age 95) currently lives in Sartell, MN.

Fairview Hospital first opened its doors to patients on January 31, 1916 after almost ten years of careful planning and preparation, organized by the United Church Hospital Association. To ensure that patients were receiving the care they needed, the Fairview Hospital Training School opened 15 days before the hospital on January 16, 1916. The first task of the 24 women who were hired as nurses was to make up the beds for the soon to be admitted patients. By the time Cora came to the nursing program in 1942, the United States was heavily involved in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II. The hospital had to be prepared for “blackout drills” and the rationing of supplies like sugar, gas, and even shoes. In The Fairview Story, written by Fern Swanke, Swanke mentions that nylon hose, a staple of a nurse uniform, “[were] impossible to buy.” Due to the influx of Graduate nurses leaving to serve overseas, new student nurses were given more responsibility.

The original building that housed the nursing program was raised in 1956 to make room for the Fairview Mental Health and Rehabilitation Unit.

Author Bio

Olivia Schiffman is a volunteer at Hennepin History Museum. She has her Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, History, and Music from Hamline University. She currently works for the City of Hugo, digitizing records and compiling research on the cities one room schoolhouse, as well as the Minnesota History Museum, researching the history of underrepresented communities at Fort Snelling.


Early Minnesota Medicine: Staying Healthy on the Frontier

The Minnesota frontier could be a frightening place to have an illness by today’s standards. Travel was slow, medical education was unregulated, and medicines were often limited to what you could make with the plants at hand. Many of these medicines that early white colonists in Minnesota used were remedies that had been learned from Native Americans, some of which were described in detail in “Home Remedies of the Frontier,” written in 1949:

The Chippewas learned that the pitch of the balsam fir would help a headache. The umbrella plant was applied as a poultice for a sprain, and wild sarsaparilla was good for the blood. […] Wild ginger was good for a pain in the stomach and the fern helped to relieve insect bites, of which there were many.

Some of these early medicines, including our object of the week, are part of the Hennepin History Museum collection. This particular photograph shows a two quart jar with strips of poplar bark, used as a medication for ulcers. The instructions on the jar read, “Steep a few pieces and drink in the morning before anything.” Another medicine acquired was a jar of quassia bark, used by the donor’s mother to create a “bitter concoction,” which her children dipped their fingers into to discourage nail biting.

In the early days of American pharmaceutical companies, these plant-based medicines were quickly capitalized, and rather than the long process of research and testing required for medicines to reach the market today, Madison writes that “unproved claims for efficacy provided the means of enticing consumers to buy the product.” The very first Minnesota newspaper devoted over three columns to drug and medical advertisements, and “there was no lack of enthusiasm in the claims for what a bottle or a pill would do.” (Home Remedies).

As the pharmaceutical industry blossomed, regulations became tighter and many of plant-based medicines, whose benefits could not be scientifically proven, were considered obsolete. Today, Hennepin History Museum is home to some of these old remedies, remnants of a bygone era on the Minnesota frontier.

Author Caitlin Crowley graduated this spring with a BA in history and a minor in medieval studies from Augsburg College. This fall she will be attending the University of Minnesota for a masters in Heritage Studies and Public History.


“Home Remedies of the Frontier,” The Saint Louis Park Dispatch, July 8, 1949, Medicine: MN: First Doctors and Early History Folder at Hennepin History Museum.

James H. Madison, “Eli Lilly: A Life, 1885-1977,” Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006.

“Patient Was Classroom Before 1893: Medics Were Once a ‘Rough Lot’,” Minneapolis Star, November 2, 1965.

“The Sick on the Frontier,” The Hennepin County Review, June 9, 1949, Medicine: MN: First Doctors and Early History Folder at Hennepin History Museum.