Winifred Holmes Griffin, Crusader for Compassionate Nursing

Winifred Holmes Griffin
Winifred Holmes Griffin

Dr. Winifred Holmes Griffin took on many roles during her lifetime. Not only was she a professional nurse with a lifelong medical career, she was also an avid student, a proponent of women’s rights, a beloved relative, and an active member of the Maine community. She was best known for her creativity, compassion, and determination. Although she moved around quite a bit during her 97 years, Winnie had a special connection with Maine and the University of Maine. She celebrated this connection by leaving a generous bequest to UMaine’s School of Nursing, so students would get a chance to work with state-of-the-art equipment in updated laboratories.

Winnie was born on April 4th, 1916, in Newark, New Jersey. She was one of Joseph and Bertha Holmes’s four children and was generally considered the linchpin of the family. Her first contact with the medical field came from her aunts, who were practitioners of alternative healing and who inspired Winnie to pursue a career in medicine. She was adamant about attending college, even at a time when it was not the norm for young women to receive a higher education.

Studying at the University of Rochester and the Boston School of Nursing, Winnie received her RN in 1941 and her BSN in 1943. She continued her education at Boston College, and earned a master’s degree in nursing in 1952. In 1972, after pre-doctoral studies at Harvard, Winnie was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Vermont for her life’s work.

Throughout her career, Winnie’s greatest concern had to do with the treatment of patients. She sensed that nurses were key to providing medical care with compassion. Winnie believed that the best solution to this problem was better education for women, so that over time, the status of “nurse” would change from hospital maid to respected medical professional. She dedicated her life to making this dream a reality.

Her highly successful medical career was filled with countless achievements. Early on, Winnie worked at Massachusetts General Hospital and helped design the nursing curriculum for New England Regional. For a time, she served as an assistant professor at Boston University School of Nursing. Later, she became the regional director of the New England Board of Higher Education, served on the New England Council of Higher Education in Nursing, and was named a charter fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

water color
Colors of My Life by Winifred Holmes Griffin

Winnie initially came to Maine in the 1950s to visit with relatives. She quickly became involved in local medicine, taking a special interest in providing health and dental care to residents of the coastal islands. While in Maine, she developed a great respect for the UMaine School of Nursing. She made Maine her permanent home in 1991.

Even as she grew older, Winnie showed no decline in spirit. She became the resident hell-raiser at her nursing home, constantly assessing the quality of care and offering suggestions for improvement. She took classes at local community colleges and rekindled her passion for art, particularly watercolor painting.

Winnie passed away in 2012. She is best remembered for her tough-but-compassionate approach to her life and work, and remains a respected figure in the Maine and medical communities.