The Untold Story Of


And The

Boston Public School Nurses 1905-1988

The Formation of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization

The Untold Story Of Annie McKay and the Boston Public Schools 1905-1986, The Formation of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization by Dorothy M. Keeney, MA, BS RN, tells the story of Annie McKay, Boston’s first school nurse, and the early Boston school nurses, prior to becoming the professionals that we know today.

“Nursing history is key to understanding the past, defining the present, and influencing the future of nursing,” explains Brigid Luskin, RN, PhD, AAHN (American Association for the History of Nursing) President, in the May/June 2011 issue of Nursing Spectrum.

Many issues transformed nurses from the stereotypical doctor’s handmaiden, struggling to obtain a respected professional status, to the school nurse who is now the clinical health expert in the school, the health care provider for students and staff while in school, and an advocate for disease prevention and health maintenance, competent health professional of today.

When taking an in depth look at the beginning stages of the school nurse movement in Boston in the early 1900s, from the first notes of the Instructive District Nursing Association (IDNA), and the earliest minutes of the meetings of the Boston Public School Nurses, many of these issues can be recognized. Examples are respect and recognition as an equal professional, pay equity, and a five-day work week.

As a school nurse historian, I will take the reader on this empowering, engaging, and emotional journey through the past, to further enlighten the reader about the challenges and struggles over adversity that led to the transformation of Massachusetts school nursing in the 20th century.

Dorothy M. Keeney author of The Untold Story of Annie McKay

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About Dorothy M. Keeney

After 20 years working as a nurse in the Boston Public Schools, Dorothy M. Keeney, MA, BS, RN, has published a book about the history of the Boston public school nurses.

Encouraged by the interest expressed when she discovered and wrote about Annie McKay, the first school nurse in Massachusetts, she went on to write this book. Dorothy spent many years researching their history, only to have her book launch coincide with a pandemic lockdown. Readers can readily see how the Boston school nurses managed the 1917-1918 Spanish flu, contagious diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever and many polio epidemics that occurred during the 20 century.

She has published several articles about their complex history that appeared in the Boston Union Teacher, and the South End Historical Society Newsletter, and in publications of the American Association of the History of Nursing, and the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization.

Dorothy has been the unofficial historian for the Boston School Nurses and the former historian for the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization. Local newspapers also published her articles about good health practices for school children and the documents needed for school entry.

Born in New York City, Dorothy graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, NJ with a BS in Nursing, followed by a Master’s in Health Care Administration from Framingham State University in Massachusetts many years later. Massachusetts has been her longtime residence.

Dorothy has over four decades of extensive nursing experience including operating room nursing, medical surgical, pediatrics, newborn nursery, public health, and her years as a school nurse. She lives in Boston with her husband Jim. They have two married daughters and two grandchildren. Dorothy is a former downhill skier and enjoys traveling, reading historical novels, and spending time with her family.

A Closer Look at the Book

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Regarding the format, this book’s 18 chapters are divided into three sections. The first section, Beginnings, Chapters 1-5 includes Boston’s first school nurse, Annie McKay’s personal story; the early education of nurses, Annie McKay at work at IDNA (Instructive District Nursing Association), and the beginnings of school nursing in Boston, with Annie McKay and IDNA.

Section 2, is Professionalization. Throughout the book you will recognize how the Boston school nurses unselfishly donated their services during times of need, such as the Chelsea fire, the Coconut Grove fire, and several flu and polio epidemics. Chapters 6-16, incorporates the new nurses hired by the Boston School Committee in 1907, their management in the early years, and the State School Nurse Law. The story is told through the eyes of the emerging Boston Public School Nurses Club. It involves school nurses trials during the 1917-1918 flu epidemics, working through the Depression, dealing with contagious diseases, and their work during WW II.

I investigate changing times for women and gender inequity as well as school nursing national trends during the 50s. I probe school nursing during Boston’s polio epidemics, and explore Boston’s problems during the 1960s, the funding and salaries of school nurses, the Racial Imbalance Act, and interviews with school nurses from those times.

I also research the 1970s such as nurse caseloads, the postponement of the 1973 school nurse exam, and the school doctor inquiry. Later on, covering the 1980s, is the last chapter recording the Boston school nurses experiences. There were no Boston School Nurses Club Minutes available to me after that time. This chapter enquired about the lack of a nurse supervisor, hiring nurse practitioners, a problematic report about school nurses, Medicaid reimbursement, and interviews with school nurses from that period.

Section 3, Looking Forward, covers Chapters 17 and 18. Chapter 17 looks at the founding and first 20 years of the Massachusetts School Nurse Organization. The book ends with A Midnight Séance. After spending so many years researching this book, I imagined this to transpire. It includes a special guest, but I will let you guess who.

This book discusses the evolving role of school nursing in Boston, told through the eyes of IDNA (Instructive District Nursing Association), and the Boston School Nurses Club. The Boston Public Schools Manual, The Boston School Committee Minutes and The Superintendent’s Notes are additional resources. Further, I used many nursing journal and newspaper articles from the various times covered for additional support. Timelines in various chapters stress key events that affect school nursing. An index is provided. My comments are interjected on events periodically throughout the book.

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Carol Almeida Fortes (left), Dorothy Keeney, and Janette Brunson at a BTU luncheon 2017.

Boston school nurses visiting Mass. State House to advocate for improved school health services. Dorothy Keeney (right).


Dorothy Keeney administering immunizations at Edison Middle School.

Dorothy Keeney supervising student using her inhaler at Edison Middle School.

Contact Dorothy M. Keeney

I would love to hear from you. Please contact me if you have any questions by completing the form below or sending an email to dorothymk2@gmail.com