On February 26, 2003, more than 400 nurses from all corners of the Commonwealth took part in an historic three-part celebration to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The MNA, the largest and oldest association for registered nurses in Massachusetts, used the occasion to honor its past, celebrate its many accomplishments and to point to present and future challenges faced by the profession.
The event was kicked off with a special ceremony and demonstration in the Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House. In her introductory remarks, MNA President Karen Higgins underscored the reasoning behind the decision to begin the festivities in that location.
"The birth, growth and continued development of registered nurses and of all professional nursing is directly tied to and dependent on laws and regulations that have been sponsored by, lobbied for and championed by the Massachusetts Nurses Association in concert with our elected leaders in this building," Higgins explained. "In this hall, Gardner Auditorium, many important hearings on the issues confronting nurses over the last 100 years have been held. It was here that testimony was given time and again to convince legislators to create a board of registration for nurses. It was here that the nurses made their case for the creation of an amendment to improve the Nurse Practice Act which governs nursing practice, and it was here in 1964 that nurses testified and won support for a law granting nurses the right to pursue collective bargaining in the Commonwealth."
Underscoring the partnership between legislators and nurses, State Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care, read the text of a legislative resolution passed in both houses of the legislature to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of the MNA to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
This was followed by a special "carnation laying" ceremony to call attention to the current crisis in nursing and patient safety in the state. Upon entering the hall, nurses were each given a single white carnation. The carnations symbolized nurses’ commitment to providing quality patient care, as well as those nurses who have left the profession because of untenable staffing conditions.
Higgins introduced the ceremony by saying, "Nurses are here to tell you that while we are proud of our history and the profession we have created to care for the public, you need to know that we are finding it more difficult to meet the legal, ethical and educational standards that define quality nursing care. The promise of quality care made to the public through the establishment of our profession and the laws that govern it cannot be kept given the current conditions created by the health care industry."
Higgins then called for the nurses to exit the hall, and as they did, they took their carnations and placed them in a basket held by State Representative Christine Canavan, RN, herself an MNA member and the lead sponsor for legislation filed by MNA to regulate RN to patient ratios in Massachusetts hospitals.
"In placing these carnations in the hands of the legislature, we are once again expressing our need for partnership and support in working together to protect the public by passing laws that will allow our patients, their constituents, to obtain the care they so rightfully deserve," Higgins told the legislators and the media in the audience.
Upon leaving the State House, nurses boarded buses (and more than 50 marched) to historic Faneuil Hall, a short distance from the State House. Faneuil Hall was the site of the founding meeting of MNA on Feb. 26, 2003. Built in 1740, Faneuil Hall was a gathering place for the patriots of the American Revolution, and has since been known as the "cradle of liberty."
The centerpiece of the program at Faneuil Hall was the presentation of a 30-minute documentary of the history of the MNA and nursing in Massachusetts over the last century. The video featured archival footage from nursing and MNA history, interviews with noted nursing historians and members of the MNA from events and years past. The program was divided into four segments, with each segment covering a 25-year period in MNA/nursing history. An MNA member dressed in the uniform of that period introduced each segment. As the film ended, MNA President Karen Higgins took the stage to offer remarks about the present and future challenges of the MNA. While she spoke, behind her the audience viewed video footage of the carnation laying ceremony they had just held.
"We wanted to show the audience that we are all part of a tradition and that the history of nursing is still being made every day by nurses who engage in the activities of their professional association. We wanted to show that the work and the mission of the MNA is ongoing," Higgins said.
As Higgins concluded her remarks, once again calling upon nurses and the legislature to fulfill the promise of nursing by passing legislation to provide nurses with a safe staffing ratio, she asked the nurses to rise and "raise some thunder for the future of nurses."
The entire hall rose up and began to bang Thunderstix that were provided, as the song "Respect" by Aretha Franklin was played. The ovation lasted for more than five minutes, with nurses cheering and dancing in celebration.
"It was one of the most exciting and proudest moments I have experienced as a nurse to see so many of my colleagues reveling in their own history and their own power as professionals," commented one attendee.
The nurses then left Faneuil Hall and proceeded to a popular nightclub in the Quincy Market, adjacent to the Hall, where they completed the celebration. Nurses enjoyed champagne and refreshments, and a video was played featuring congratulatory remarks from state and local political leaders, including Senator Edward Kennedy, Congressman James McGovern, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representative Thomas Finneran and President of the State Senate Robert Travaglini. The evening’s festivities culminated with the cutting of the MNA’s 100th Anniversary birthday cake.