Jennie Mae Quinn, a leader in the professional development of nursing in Mississippi, was born in Milford, Pennsylvania, a rural community near the Poconos. She attended Milford’s public schools before graduating from the Lackawanna County Hospital Training School for Nurses in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1899. She recalled that her student life was characterized by twelve-hour days of practice and classes, with many hours of overtime following mine disasters in the coalfields near Scranton. For the first ten years after graduation she practiced with two intervals of hospital duty. She enrolled in the New York Registry of Nurses and began to accept calls away from home. She went to western Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Upstate New York to serve during epidemics.
In the fall of 1910 she was called to Hattiesburg to assume the responsibilities of superintendent of nurses. She arrived in Hattiesburg on 5 October 1910 at 4:58 and immediately assumed her duties. After discovering that nine students were enrolled at the hospital for nursing, she also became the director of the nursing school.
Quinn noticed immediately that nurses in Mississippi did not enjoy the collegiality and advantages that came from alumnae associations or other nursing organizations and that Mississippi lacked licensure for trained nurses, practices that had already been established in the North. She consequently began work on the Hattiesburg Association of Graduate Nurses, which organized in 1911 with her as president. Within a month she traveled to Natchez to work with a colleague from the Natchez Hospital to draft the constitution and bylaws for a state association. On 7 June 1911 a group of ten nurses met at the Natchez Hospital and approved the constitution, bylaws, and code of ethics for the Mississippi State Association of Graduate Nurses (later the Mississippi Nurses’ Association), with the goal of advancing nursing standards and education. Although she was the only out-of-town participant, Quinn was elected the group’s president.
Quinn led a committee of nurses and worked with state political leaders for the next three years to persuade the legislature to pass a measure that would license and recognize trained nurses. With the bill’s passage, a board of nurse examiners had to be formed, and Quinn was named its president. Under her guidance, the board administered the first licensure exam in July 1916.
On 4 April 1917 Quinn married James A. Cameron, a Hattiesburg businessman. She continued to teach at the school and serve the hospital as an anesthetist and X-ray technician until she left active practice in 1925 to be at home with her family, which included a daughter, Helen. Cameron remained interested in the nursing profession and remained a popular speaker, continuing to serve nurses and nursing until her death on 7 July 1976 in Hattiesburg. The Mississippi Nurses’ Association has honored Mississippi’s First Lady of Nursing with a portrait that hangs in the state headquarters.
- Mississippi Nurses Association Historical Committee, Passing the Flame: The History of the Mississippi Nurses Association, 1911–1986 (1986)
- Papers of Jennie Quinn Cameron, Mississippi Department of Archives and History