New York Heritage Digital Collection

Photograph of the Pan Am Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo illuminated at night with latest technology for electrical wiring.
Panoramic View of the Pan-Am Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo. NY. Source Wikimedia  (1)

Several members of the Fleming family moved to cities in New York State in the late 1800s. Researching their movements and lives has led us to the trove of the New York Heritage digital collections ( created by eight members of the Empire State Library Network.

Two cousins – Jean Agnew, daughter of Jessie (Fleming) Agnew, and Margaret Fleming, daughter of James Fleming –  were among the first to enter new nursing programs being started in New York State in the 1880s.

Jean Agnew arrived in Rochester NY to begin her training at the Rochester City General Hospital around 1887. The Rochester City Hospital School of Nursing, the third nursing school in New York State, opened its doors in 1880.

The Rochester Medical Museum and Archives, a contributor to the NY Heritage Collection, holds the Rochester City General Hospital School of Nursing Collection. Here we found a photo of a Miss Jennie Agnew and Miss Emma C. Norris, class of 1889. This smiling young woman could very well be our Jean.

Miss Jennie Agnew and Miss Emma C. Norris – Rochester City Hospital School of Nursing, class of 1889 – Source: Rochester Medical Museum and Archives at

Jean may have gone into providing private care after graduation. It would be several years before nursing was recognized as a profession.

In the beginning, after graduation from a hospital school of nursing, most graduate nurses earned their living as private duty nurses in the patient’s home . Hospitals did not require the services of graduate nurses as students provided nursing care. In some cases the hospital would hire a recent graduate as a head nurse or supervisor. Private duty assignments were obtained through hospital registries or directories. [i] Private duty nurses had no control over their assignment or their pay; the registry or directory, obtained their assignments and set the rate of pay. Between assignments, the nurse was unemployed without any income from nursing. (2)

We do know that Jean moved to Buffalo a few years later (c. 1896), where, in time,  she became superintendent of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Buffalo as it helped women with their education.

NY Heritage Collection has the Buffalo City Directory for 1896 in which it is easy to locate the Union on Delaware Ave., and the Library, where Jean worked, on 25 Niagara Square. (The building was on the corner of Delaware and Niagara Square). Jean Agnew was not in the City Directory  – but directories tended to list businesses and heads of families. Unfortunately, we have to look to the Women’s Union – Townsend Hall – History of Buffalo  for a photograph of the building

Margaret Fleming came to Buffalo around 1885 to enroll in the psychiatric nursing program begun at the Buffalo State Asylum in 1883. The Asylum is listed in the 1887 Buffalo City Directory under Official Institutions with a list of managers and officers. In that year we find Margaret listed as an attendant (p. 458) and also John Hayes (p. 535 ) whom she would marry that year. The directories at NY Heritage allow us to trace the family’s movements in Buffalo and the Olean area in the early 1900s more easily than does Margaret in later years would take on positions in Los Angeles and also in New York State providing nursing care for the mentally ill.

The NY Heritage collection has city directories for Buffalo for most years 1832 to 1913 (, and nine for Rochester ( Unfortunately, NY Heritage is not the easiest website to search in spite of faceted groupings for search results (machine classified without human modification, I suspect). If you find a node of use to you, bookmark it – don’t hope to find it easily again.

Pan-American Exposition of 1901 is one of the larger collections at NY Heritage. The 1901 Exposition  showcased Buffalo’s position as one of the largest cities in the United States (eighth in size with 352,000 people). It was especially notable for using electrical power from Niagara Falls for the night-time illumination of the site (though the excitement was much dampened by the assassination of President William McKinley in September). (3)  Surely Jean and Margaret had a chance to take in the fair with their families.


(1) Panorama of Exposition by unidentified photographer, from “The Latest and Best Views of the Pan-American Exposition”, Buffalo, N.Y.: Robert Allen Reid, 1901 – University of Buffalo:, Public Domain,

(2) American Nursing History, “Definition of Profession,”

(3) Pan-American Exposition Collection, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation

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