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Historic Presbyterian mission named historic landmark

Ganado’s Sage School of Nursing honored by National Park Service

August 5, 2009

GANADO, AZ

Ganado Presbyterian Mission’s Sage Memorial Hospital School of Nursing has been named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. 

A special recognition ceremony will be held by Grand Canyon Presbytery on the afternoon of Sept. 19 to recognize the honor and to dedicate a Landmark Garden.  

Three monuments are planned for the garden along with four mahogany granite benches. The site will provide a tranquil place for visitors to sit among flora found in the early Mission garden. Donations are being accepted by the Presbytery to cover the cost. 

The nursing school, which operated from 1930-1953, played a significant role in U.S. History, enabling Native American women to become working professionals. The empowerment they received at the nursing school gave these women the inspiration to succeed as individuals throughout the country. 
 
Founded in 1901 along with the Ganado Presbyterian Church, the Ganado Historic Mission grew to become the largest domestic mission of the Presbyterian Church and the largest Indian mission in the United States.  A school for Navajo children was opened shortly after the mission's founding and in 1911 a twelve-bed hospital was opened.  This building, Sage, was the first non-governmentally funded hospital on an Indian reservation in the U.S.

Sage Memorial Hospital School of Nursing was founded in 1930. The school provided a professional nursing education, which until the founding of Sage, had been denied to women of racial minority groups. It was the first and only accredited nursing training school for Native American women in the United States.

At that time, attitudes still persisted among many Anglo-Americans that Native American people were not mentally capable of succeeding in an academic environment.

Dr. Clarence Salsbury, the charismatic founder of the school, wrote in his memoirs that "lots of people said that girls with red skins would never be able to handle the academic subjects, could not master the surgical techniques and most emphatically [because of their cultural attitudes towards death] would never touch a dead body. I was told a thousand times that Indians were just not temperamentally suited to be nurses."

The school became very successful, graduating many Native American students from all over the United States and foreign students from as far away as China and Japan. It represents a landmark in changing Anglo attitudes towards the capabilities of Native American people, as well as an increased acceptance on the part of Native Americans of some of the benefits of white medicine and technology.

Although it is the school of nursing that has been honored, the historic mission site contains some 64 buildings. The Presbytery of Grand Canyon holds title to the property, but it is leased to the Navajo Health Service which operates the hospital and a number of other health services on the site.

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