Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Sarah "Sadie" Heath Cabaniss (9 October 1865–11 July 1921), nurse, was born in Petersburg, the daughter of Charles J. Cabaniss, a retired lawyer, and Virginia Elizabeth Heath Cabaniss. Sadie Cabaniss, as she was called, grew up at Bothwell, the family residence in Dinwiddie County. After studying French, German, and Latin at home, she entered Mount Pisgah Academy in King William County at age twelve. Cabaniss wanted to go on to Vassar College after she graduated from the academy at the age of sixteen, but her parents, holding traditional views about the education of young women, sent her instead to Saint Timothy's School in Catonsville, Maryland. She taught as a governess near Tappahannock for one year and then returned to Mount Pisgah as an instructor for the next three years. Cabaniss never married, but about 1886 she informally adopted a nine-year-old child, Emily Baskerville, whom she raised and educated for the next ten years.

Training School for Nurses
Despite the objections of her parents Cabaniss entered the nursing program at the Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1893. She was the night superintendent at Johns Hopkins Hospital for one year, and then in 1894 she moved to Richmond to work at Old Dominion Hospital. Six months later the hospital's doctors chose Cabaniss to reorganize the hospital and begin a training school for nurses. The Old Dominion Hospital School for Nurses opened under her supervision in April 1895, and the first class of nine students graduated two years later. Cabaniss was offended that Virginians had to rely on northern nursing schools to obtain enough nurses to meet the needs of hospitals and private nursing calls, and she urged state residents to do better. She was particularly concerned about medical care for the poor and encouraged her nursing students to undertake volunteer work at the homes of patients. Cabaniss sent her students to staff Old Dominion Hospital and Sheltering Arms Free Hospital in Richmond and also to work in rest homes, orphanages, the city's free dispensary, and the hospital at the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Soldiers' Home. The school opened a dispensary for white women and children during its first year of operation. Cabaniss also proposed a system of visiting nursing for patients who were unable to afford private duty nurses but unwilling to accept charitable care.

A formidable personality who insisted on rigid discipline and required her students to be models of neatness, order, and sobriety, Cabaniss also had the gift of inspiring pupils to follow her lead. The members of Old Dominion's class of 1900 devoted themselves to care for the poor. They acquired a house in Richmond, and each committed one day and several evenings a week to charity nursing among both white and black patients of all religious denominations. The visiting nurses also established boys' and girls' clubs for children and nursing and cooking classes for women on the model of the Henry Street Settlement in New York City and the visiting nursing program in Norfolk. The Virginia legislature incorporated the Nurses' Settlement on 14 February 1901. Cabaniss resigned from Old Dominion Hospital on 8 April of that year and in the autumn joined the Nurses' Settlement. She served as its director for eight years.

Instructive Visiting Nurse Association
The city of Richmond provided $150 to the Nurses' Settlement during its first year of operation, but the members had to rent out rooms and kitchen space to raise money for their expenses. In December 1901 the Woman's Club of Richmond invited the settlement to explain its mission at a meeting, and as a consequence Lila Hardaway Meade Valentine and several other members established the Instructive Visiting Nurse Association (IVNA) in February 1902 to support and expand the activities of the settlement. Cabaniss encouraged her colleagues to begin visiting nurse programs in Danville, Leesburg, and Newport News. In 1904 she helped organize the first tuberculosis dispensaries in Virginia, with separate clinics established for white and black patients in Richmond after the city's board of health assumed responsibility in 1906. In 1909 the IVNA won permission from the city of Richmond to place the first official nurse in a public school.

Nursing Associations
In 1901 Cabaniss became the first president of the Virginia State Association of Nurses (after 1905 the Graduate Nurses' Association of Virginia and still later the Virginia Nurses' Association). She served in this post until she became honorary president in 1905. The association worked for passage of a law that in 1903 made Virginia one of the first four states to regulate nursing. Cabaniss chaired the State Board of Examiners of Graduate Nurses for its first nine years. Although she supported allowing African American women to become registered nurses, she agreed with the Graduate Nurses' Association's decision in 1907 to restrict membership to whites.

Cabaniss was second vice president of the Nurses' Associated Alumnae of the United States in 1907 when it held its annual meeting in Richmond. Two years later personal health problems led her to resign from both the Nurses' Settlement and the IVNA and to exchange positions with a rural public health nurse in Hanover County in the hope that leaving the city would improve her health. Cabaniss returned to Saint Timothy's in Maryland as a school nurse, but while there in the spring of 1911 she suffered an emotional collapse and was hospitalized in a sanatorium for two and a half years.

Later Years
In the winter of 1915 Cabaniss moved to Saint Augustine, Florida, where the King's Daughters employed her as a visiting nurse. She began the Neil Neighborhood House Auxiliary, taught domestic science and child care, and organized a kindergarten. In 1916 Cabaniss left Florida to organize public health nurses in North Carolina, and in 1918 she was appointed public health nurse for Port Wentworth, Georgia, a new industrial city that grew up near Savannah during World War I.

After the war Cabaniss returned to Virginia and worked as a school nurse at Foxcroft School in Loudoun County. In 1920 she became a public health nurse in Westmoreland County, where Emily Baskerville Chinn and her family lived. When her health failed again the following winter, Cabaniss moved into Chinn's home. Her condition deteriorated, and her brother and sister took her into their home in Petersburg for a few weeks before moving her to Westbrook Sanatorium in Richmond. Sarah "Sadie" Heath Cabaniss died there of an acute kidney inflammation on 11 July 1921 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.

In 1926 the graduate nurses of Virginia endowed a chair in Cabaniss's honor at the University of Virginia, and two years later the university's Department of Education established the Cabaniss Memorial School of Nursing Education. Until 1954 the school offered graduate courses in nursing education. The Medical College of Virginia dedicated Cabaniss Hall in 1928. In May 2001 Cabaniss was among the inaugural class inducted into the Virginia Nursing Hall of Fame.

Sources Consulted:
Anne F. Parsons, "Sadie Heath Cabaniss, Virginia's Pioneer Nurse," Bits of News From Headquarters: Graduate Nurses' Association of Virginia 8 (Mar. 1940): 35–41 (gives 1863 birth date); Nannie J. Minor, "Sadie Heath Cabaniss: A Pioneer Nurse in Virginia," Medical College of Virginia Bulletin 25 (Jan. 1928): 17–20, reprinted in Virginia Iota State Organization of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society, Adventures in Teaching: Pioneer Women Educators and Influential Teachers (1963), 156–160; Birth Register, Dinwiddie Co. (variant birthplace and birth date of 9 Nov. 1865), Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; James Rives Childs, Reliques of the Rives (Ryves) (1929), 640, and BVS Death Certificate, Henrico Co., give birth date of 9 Oct. 1865; Cabaniss documents in Instructive Visiting Nurse Association Papers and Virginia Nurses' Association Archives, Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; Charles R. Robins, "Beginnings in Nursing Education under Sadie Heath Cabaniss at the Old Dominion Hospital," Medical College of Virginia Bulletin 25 (Feb. 1929): 3–7 (frontispiece portrait); Grace Erickson, "Southern Initiative in Public Health Nursing: The Founding of the Nurses' Settlement and Instructive Visiting Nurse Association of Richmond, Virginia, 1900–1910," Journal of Nursing History 3 (1987): 17–29; Ray O. Hummel Jr. and Katherine M. Smith, Portraits and Statuary of Virginians Owned by The Virginia State Library, The Medical College of Virginia, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Other State Agencies: An Illustrated Catalog (1977), 18 (portrait); obituary in Petersburg Evening Progress, 12 July 1921; death notice in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12 July 1921; editorial tribute in Richmond News Leader, 19 July 1921; memorials in American Journal of Nursing 21 (1921): 843, and Johns Hopkins Nurses Alumnae Magazine (Feb. 1927): 2, 4–8.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Mary Carroll Johansen.

How to cite this page:
Mary Carroll Johansen,"Sarah "Sadie" Heath Cabaniss (1865–1921)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Cabaniss_Sadie_Heath, accessed [today's date]).

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