A Window to the Past and a Gift to the Future: UTHSC’s College of Nursing Looks for Memorabilia from Early Grads

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Ditamore Memorabilia
Items such as these donated by the family of Nursing grad Elizabeth Allene Vance Ditamore, class of 1940, help paint a picture of nursing through the years.

The diploma Elizabeth Allene Vance received from the University of Tennessee School of Nursing in 1940 was her ticket to see the world.

Grateful to the nursing school that shaped her mom’s life, Catherine Ditamore of Little Rock, Ark., felt it appropriate after her mother’s death in 2010, to donate memorabilia from her mom’s student nursing days in Memphis to what is now the College of Nursing at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She hopes the items will remind today’s student nurses of those who went before them, make them aware of the noble heritage the profession carries, and inspire them with the possibilities that nursing can offer.

The College of Nursing wants more graduates and their relatives to do the same. A collection of items, including uniforms, diplomas, photographs, nursing pins, instruments and more that tell the history of nursing and of nursing at UT since its birth in 1898, will be displayed in the new College of Nursing Building on the site of the Crowe Research Building, when it is completed in about three years.

Among the items Catherine Ditamore, 64, a retired information technologist, donated is a receipt for $10 that secured her mother’s first-quarter admission in March 1937. Also donated are: her acceptance letter dated Oct. 30, 1936; photos of nursing students wearing gowns and corsages at a dance at The Peabody Skyway; photos of the old John Gaston Hospital; a class composite with 29 women from six Southern states; and the diploma declaring Vance a member of the graduating class of September 1940.

Elizabeth Allene Vance Ditamore
Elizabeth Allene Vance Ditamore

After graduation, Vance became an Army nurse, entering as a second lieutenant and eventually becoming a captain. During training in Louisiana, she met First Lieutenant Earl Ditamore. He was shipped off to Europe, she to the Philippines. They corresponded and married back in the states in 1946. They lived in Germany, where he was stationed, and were preparing to move the family to Japan in 1950 for his stint in Korea, when he died. Elizabeth Allene Vance Ditamore never remarried.

She moved to Virginia to raise their daughter and son, eventually settling in Fairfax. She got a bachelor’s degree, took a nursing refresher course, and was a post-surgical nurse until she retired at 65. She died at 94, and because of her rank in the Army, she is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband.

Her daughter says she has “a soft spot” in her heart for the University of Tennessee and its nursing program, and that’s why she offered the memorabilia her mom obviously treasured. “I look back on her life, and in terms of setting her on a path for the rest of her life, that’s what happened in Memphis.”

Dianne Greenhill, BSN, MS, EdS, EdD, is president of the UTHSC College of Nursing Alumni Association Board of Directors, a 1962 graduate, professor emeritus of the college, and author of the book about its history, “From Diploma to Doctorate: 100 Years of Nursing.” She is helping to organize the collection effort, which she feels has a larger purpose than just showcasing interesting objects related to the profession.

“I think it’s important to know our legacy and where we came from and how nursing has changed over the years,” she said. “You don’t realize that, if you don’t see what it was like in the early period.”

The items will be preserved in a glass display similar to the Apothecaries Collection in the Pharmacy Building.

The College of Nursing is especially interested in photos taken prior to the 1950s, diplomas from the 1920s and earlier, nursing pins from prior to the 1920s, nursing caps and uniforms from before the 1940s, nursing notes from early classes, nursing instruments and more. Those who would like to donate items for display should contact Dianne Greenhill at dgreenhill@uthsc.edu or (901) 820-0211.