The early history of the school is closely associated with that of the Kahler Corporation and the Colonial Hospital. In March 1916, the Colonial was opened as a convalescent hotel. In 1917, the Colonial became a unit of the newly formed Kahler Roberts Corporation. This corporation included the Hotel Zumbro, Model Laundry and the Kahler, which was later named the Damon. In 1917, the corporation opened another hospital, the Stanley, which was converted into a dormitory in 1919 and known as Kahler Hall.
In a rural community with 12,000 people, maintaining an adequate supply of registered nurses was a problem for the expanding Rochester hospitals. World War I aggravated this when many nurses enlisted in military service.
To assist in solving this problem, Dr. Melvin S. Henderson of Mayo Clinic, chief of staff of Colonial Hospital, and Miss Mary J. Gill, nurse and superintendent of nurses at Colonial, recommended the establishment of a training school. The recommendation was accepted, and the Kahler Corporation established the Colonial Hospital Training School of Nurses with admission of the first five students on April 9, 1918. One to seven students were admitted in succeeding months until there were a total of 35.
The first class entered for one year of preparation, to be followed by military service in army camps. However, the armistice was signed in November of that year, so their services were not needed by the government.
In 1919, the program was lengthened to two years, and a majority of students elected to continue in the school. Ten students completed the two-year program in 1920. In that same year, the school's program was lengthened again, this time to three years, thereby establishing it as a diploma program in professional nursing. The name of the school was changed to Colonial and Allied Hospitals School for Nurses.
In 1921, the name of the school was changed again and became the Kahler Hospitals School of Nursing.
The nursing program continued to grow and reached its peak enrollment of 473 in 1944, during World War II. However, the corporation faced very difficult years in the 1930s and '40s — diminishing profits during the depression, shortages of supplies and personnel during World War II, rapidly increasing costs of operation, and a heavy tax burden all threatened the very existence of the hospitals and the school.
Cadet Nurses Corp
During World War II, there was an increased need for trained nurses. The United States initiated a program, the Cadet Nurse Corps, to stimulate interest in the nursing profession. On July 1, 1943, the Kahler School of Nursing was approved by the U.S. Public Health Service to offer its students the opportunity to join the Cadet Nurse Corps. To be eligible, the student nurse had to promise to remain in essential nursing for the duration of World War II.
There were 407 Kahler School of Nursing students who participated in the Cadet Nurse Corps program. The program was accelerated to be completed in 30 months instead of the usual 36 months, but no part of the curriculum or practical experience was deleted.
The last six months of training was the senior cadet period. During that time, cadets could choose from a variety of training experiences in the Army, Navy, Veterans Administration, U.S. Public Health Service and Indian Bureau. Cadets also could request to train at other authorized schools for experience in a specialty area such as psychiatrics or communicable diseases.
As World War II ended, some nurses went on to other areas of nursing, while many remained with the armed services and did tours of duty.
In 1954, the hospitals and the school were sold and incorporated as the Rochester Methodist Hospital, a nonprofit Minnesota corporation. To recognize a tie with the past and at the same time provide identification with the newly named Rochester Methodist Hospital, the school was renamed Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing.
In 1970, the school issued its 3,827th diploma before closing. Rochester Community and Technical College then became the major institution granting nursing degrees in the city. The school spirit lives on through its alumni. The Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing Alumni Association was organized in September 1922 and is still a very active group.