Regina “Kappy” Kaplan helped break down gender barriers in medicine by creating the first nursing school in the South that admitted male students. Kaplan graduated first in her class of twelve from Denver’s Mercy Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1908. In 1916, she became superintendent and administrator of the Leo N. Levi Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she developed the hospital’s nursing school. She chaired the National Rehabilitation Association in the State Hospitals in 1928 and from 1945 to 1946 she served as vice president of the American Hospital Association. She was active in Temple Beth Israel as a board member and choir director. In 1944, she was honored for her many contributions to nursing with a brunch at the White House.
Early Life and Family
“Woman of valor” and “a tiny dynamo”—these phrases describe Regina Kaplan (nicknamed Kappy), nurse, teacher, hospital administrator, and health care innovator.
She was born to Gershon and Adella (Hannah Traube) Kaplan, German-born immigrants, in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 12, 1887. Her father had taught school in Germany. Kaplan was the third of five children: Sally, Belle, Regina, Louis G., and Dora. She always said that she learned hesed [loving-kindness] from her parents.
In 1908, Kaplan graduated first in a class of twelve from Mercy Hospital Training School for Nurses, in Denver, Colorado, and worked as a private duty nurse. Although rejected as too short for military service during World War I, she enrolled with the American Red Cross on January 14, 1915 (badge number 5482).
Nursing Education and Administration
For thirty-five years, Kaplan was superintendent and administrator of the Leo N. Levi Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Beginning in 1916, she developed its School of Nursing, the first school in the South to admit males. The school closed in September 1952.
In 1917, Kaplan organized and directed its outpatient dispensary. She set up a local Red Cross chapter and taught classes in nurse’s aide preparation, home nursing, and first aid to adults and high school students. She hired the first school nurse for Hot Springs and encouraged the establishment of a free public health nursing program.
Kaplan belonged to the American Nurses Association from 1918 on, the Arkansas Nurses Association, and the Colorado State Nurses Association. She chaired the National Rehabilitation Association in the State Hospitals (1928) and was a member of the American College of Hospital Administrators. She attended two hospital administrators institutes: Purdue University in 1940 and Colorado University in 1945. She belonged to the American Hospital Association (vice president, 1945 to 1946) and urged Levi Hospital’s participation in Blue Cross. Kaplan felt so positively about Blue Cross that she became a member of the board of trustees of the Arkansas Blue Cross, Blue Shield. She continued serving the Garland County Red Cross as executive secretary (1917 to 1945). In 1944, she was honored with brunch at the White House.
Kaplan founded the Lakewood Convalescent Home for “old age indigents” of Garland County and served as its president from 1946 to 1953. During this time, she also served as president of the Arkansas Hospital Association (1947 to 1948), was a member of the Mid-West Hospital Association (1948 to 1949), and was on the advisory consultant board of hospitals for Arkansas, State Board of Health (1949 to 1953). From 1942 to 1951, she listed herself as organizer and director of the National Arthritis Research Foundation (NARF), an organization that competed with the American Rheumatism Association. NARF funded several projects at the University of Arkansas, then folded. Kaplan contributed to professional journals and read papers before sectional meetings of the American College of Surgeons.
Kaplan served as director and chair of the Temple Beth Israel choir, in which she sang soprano. She also served on Beth Israel’s board of directors. She was a member of the board of directors of the Community Concert Association, president of the Federation of Church Women (1943 to 1945), secretary of the Hot Springs Community Council, and a member of Eastern Star, Hadassah, and B’nai B’rith. Her club associations included Dale Carnegie, Business and Professional Women, and Explorers.
Kaplan retired on January 16, 1951, but remained a consultant to Levi Hospital. In 1953, she began a second career as director of central supply, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hot Springs, and was a charter member of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Guild.
Diagnosed with cancer, she left Hot Springs to return to Denver. Regina Kaplan died at the Jewish Hospital in Denver on October 8, 1957, her adopted daughter Betty Uzick at her side.
De Kruif, Paul. “The Ace of Hearts.” In Life among the Doctors (1949).
LeMaster, C. Regina Kaplan: Arkansas’s ‘Lady with the Lamp.’ (1987).
Mayer, Susan L. “The Jewish Experience in Nursing in America: 1881 to 1955.” Ed.D. diss., Teachers College, Columbia University (1996).