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Regina Kaplan (1887–1957)

Nurse, teacher, and healthcare innovator Regina Kaplan was the hospital administrator and director of the nursing school at the Leo N. Levi Memorial Hospital in Hot Springs (Garland County) for thirty-five years. She was active in national and community organizations, and has been called Arkansas’s “Lady with the Lamp.”

Regina Kaplan was born on May 12, 1887, in Memphis, Tennessee, the third of five children of German immigrants Gershon Kaplan and Adella Hannah Traube Kaplan. Her father had been a school teacher in Germany. The family moved to Denver for her mother’s health. Unable to afford medical school to become a doctor, at age seventeen, Kaplan entered Denver’s Mercy Hospital Training School for Nursing. She graduated in 1908 at the top of her class of twelve. As was the norm for nursing graduates, Kaplan began work as a private duty nurse after graduation. She then heard of the need for a superintendent in Arkansas at the new Levi Hospital, which had been founded in 1914.

On January 16, 1916, the twenty-nine-year-old Kaplan took the reins as hospital administrator. She soon established the Leo Levi School of Nursing as part of the hospital in order to train future nurses and provide a low-cost source of hospital staff. Thirty-five years later, she recalled praying not to fail the trust placed in her, saying, “With His help I would dedicate my life wholly to Levi and the service I hoped to build there.” The Levi School of Nursing was the first such institution in the South to admit male students.

In 1917, Kaplan established a Garland County chapter of the American Red Cross. As part of that program, she taught classes in first aid, home nursing, and nurse’s aide training to adults and high school students. She developed a free public health nursing program, hiring the first school nurse for Hot Springs.

Kaplan was a member of the American College of Hospital Administrators and served in numerous national posts, including chairing the National Rehabilitation Association in the State Hospitals in 1928. She was vice president of the American Hospital Association in 1945–1946, served as president of the Mid-West Hospital Association, presented papers for the American College of Surgeons, and continued serving the Garland County chapter of the American Red Cross as executive secretary through 1945. She was president of the Arkansas Hospital Association (1947–1948) and served on the advisory board of hospitals for the Arkansas State Board of Health from 1949 to 1953.

During this period, she also participated in many civic activities such as serving as a board member for Hot Springs’ Community Concert Association, secretary of the Hot Springs Community Council, and president of the Federation of Church Women (1943–1945). She was a member of Eastern Star, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, and the local chapter of Business and Professional Women.

In 1944, she was honored by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with brunch at the White House for her many contributions to nursing. In Washington DC, Kaplan also gave a speech on healthcare before Congress. Eleanor Roosevelt presented Kaplan with a copy of Woodrow Wilson’s Life and Letters, which she inscribed to Kaplan.

Kaplan was an early advocate of health insurance through Blue Cross and urged Levi Hospital to participate in the plan. She was one of its organizers in Arkansas and served on the original board of trustees of Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield. Seeing an increased need for the care of older people, Kaplan founded the Lakewood Convalescent Home of Garland County, serving as its president from 1946 to 1953.

On January 16, 1951, exactly thirty-five years after starting work at Levi Hospital, Kaplan retired, though she remained a consultant for the hospital. A city-wide tribute was held, with the mayor of Hot Springs proclaiming “Kaplan Honor Day.” Levi Hospital released a tribute volume titled Hospital Heartbeat: Honoring Regina Kaplan for Thirty-five Years in a Ministry of Service, Jan. 16, 1951.

Levi’s nursing school closed in 1952. In 1953, Kaplan became director of central supply at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hot Springs and was a charter member of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Guild.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Kaplan returned to Denver, where she died on October 8, 1957.

For additional information:
Anthony, Isabel Burton, ed. Garland County, Arkansas: Our History and Heritage. Hot Springs, AR: Garland County Historical Society, 2009.

LeMaster, C. “Regina Kaplan: Arkansas ‘Lady with the Lamp.’” Unpublished manuscript, 1987. American Jewish Archives, Jewish Institute of Religion. Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Mayer, Susan L. “Regina Kaplan 1887–1957.” Encyclopedia, Jewish Women’s Archive. http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/kaplan-regina (accessed January 8, 2014).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated 1/23/2015

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