Class of 1955 celebrates 60 years with new book

Members of the School of Nursing’s class of 1955 have worked for several years to write a book that would document their journey as the first graduates of the School and the full class of freshman women to enter the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They have now accomplished their goal with the publication of Ahead of Our Time: Chapel Hill’s First Nightingales.

In 1951 — a time of big bands and bobby socks — UNC Chapel Hill opened its doors to the new School of Nursing’s small class of 27 female freshman students. The 220-page collection of memoirs recalls both the fun and challenges experienced by the 17 women who went on to complete the state’s first four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

The Panty Raid

As freshmen, living on the main campus left the nursing students vulnerable to a “panty raid,” as a mob of boys ran to their dorm yelling, “throw panties” — all the rage on college campuses that year. Then, at the beginning of their sophomore year, they temporarily lived in what would later be patient rooms in the new North Carolina Memorial Hospital while the nurses’ dormitory was being finished.

During clinical experiences in the hospital, the School’s instructors emphasized learning over serving the hospital: a new approach that aroused some resistance from staff nurses as well as physicians. As the nursing students learned how proper techniques are performed, they saw patients young and old, including polio patients in large “iron lung” machines that allowed them to breathe.

Dean Kemble

Through it all, Dean Elizabeth Kemble led them with grace and dignity while also guiding them in what was expected from them as nurses both in and outside the clinical area. She praised the students for helping in the hospital during a big storm, but also reminded them that they were not at UNC to entertain the boys when their enthusiasm exceeded her expectations.

The class of 1955 helped usher in a new approach to nursing education that shaped the rest of their lives and would forever change nursing in North Carolina. After graduating in 1955, class members took their skills and experiences across the state of North Carolina and the world. Holding the rare BSN placed them into leadership positions early in their careers, and their experience as trailblazers gave them confidence to tackle new challenges.

Get your copy

You can purchase Ahead of Our Time: Chapel Hill’s First Nightingales at Paperback: $15.00 and Kindle eBook: $4.49. All profits will be donated to the School of Nursing.

For more information, including bulk orders, please contact Nancy Lamontagne at or Bette Davis at

Class members talked about their new book during an enrichment session at their 60th reunion in Chapel Hill in May. The photos below are from that session, or you can watch a video of the session in this video from the reunion:

Photos above by Shane Snider. Click here to see more photos from the Reunion Weekend taken by photographer Shane Snider.