Marija Tomšič was born on 10 December 1907 in Postojna to her parents Marija and Jože Tomšič, a military lieutenant. In 1909, the family moved to Novo mesto, where Marija finished five classes of the people’s school, three classes of the bourgeois school in Šmihel near Novo mesto and a two-year merchant school in Novo mesto. From 1 July 1924 to 31 March 1925, she took up an apprenticeship as an office assistant at the district board in Novo Mesto. In June 1925, she passed the exams for the fourth year and the lower course exam at the 1st national bourgeois school for girls in Ljubljana. Because she was not fond of working in the office, she stayed home for a while and did household work for her parents. On 1 March 1927, she enrolled the nurse school, which was founded in 1923 by the Association for social hygiene and children protection (Zavod za socialno higieno in zaščito dece) in Ljubljana. She graduated from the school with honours on 13 March 1929.
From 1 May to 1 September 1929, she did free work in the summer colony at Sv. Martin at Pohorje as part of the programme by Association for social hygiene and children protection in Ljubljana. Later, she carried out field health education programmes in form of travelling courses on childcare and child nutrition as a protection nurse.
On 25 August 1930, she was appointed school nurse at the Nurse School of the national Association for Health Protection of Mothers and Children in Ljubljana, where she supervised the students and their practice introduction. On 8 July 1933, she passed the national qualifying examination in Ljubljana with honours and she became a study medicine nurse for patient care at the internal department of the Ljubljana hospital on 1 August 1937. At the same time, she taught patient care and hospital work organisation at school and prepared a textbook for this subject, she carried out the cashier and bookkeeping, sometimes also accounting works. She spent the war period in Ljubljana, where she supported the students who were Liberation Front activists. After the war ended, she was transferred to Novo mesto and appointed head nurse of the Public Hospital for Women in 1946 due to a severe lack of expert staff there. She took up this job on 1 February 1946. After hospital reorganisation, she has worked as the head nurse at the surgical department until her retirement.
In the beginning of 1946, the Novo mesto hospital was organised as a “male” part, in which patients were cared for by friars belonging to the order of St. John of God, and as a “female” part in which Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul served as nurses. Both parts lacked expert staff, the hygiene was bad and there was a lack of equipment and instruments. Both hospitals merged to the General Hospital of Novo mesto, where patients were accepted according to their diseases and not separated according to their sex.
Due to general lack, the work of this new founded hospital was difficult, the people from Novo mesto had no trust in it and were rather going to Ljubljana for treatment. The few workers started reorganising the work at the hospital by making suggestions for improvement, at which Prof. Dr. Lunaček was of great help. The hospital had a department for internal medicine, surgery, gynaecology and obstetrics, a lab, a pharmacy as well as expert and managing administrations.
Marija Tomšič was very eager to acquire care staff and teach the girls from the surrounding villages who had no expert education and mostly poor primary school education due to war. They were educated by working with patients; in the first two years, the sisters who worked as heads of individual departments helped them to learn. Marija Tomšič worked precisely, consistently and uncompromisingly; she demanded order and discipline and was looked upon as a great authority by the employees. She wrote the daily work schedule by herself, supervised preparation of the food and tasted it to check if it is suitable for the patient’s diet, she managed the lab and supervised the nurses. After having passed additional exams, she became a senior nurse on 1 October 1947 and was appointed doctor assistant on 1 February 1950.
Throughout her entire career, she actively worked in the field of education. In 1948, she organised the first nursing course, at which she and other doctors lectured. In the first year, eleven nurses participated in the course, and further eighteen nurses completed the course in 1949. The participants were taught about general patient care, care for healthy and sick children, baby nutrition and first aid measures. The courses took place until 1956, when they were transformed into half-year and then to one- and two-year nursing school, in which the acquired knowledge was extended with lectures on the attitude of staff towards the patients and relatives, on healthy and dietary nutrition, blood and plasma transfusion, mental hygiene etc. The nursing school within the hospital was operating until 1962, when the secondary nursing school was established.
Marija Tomšič was the president of the social and healthcare institutions trade union, branch 1, in Novo mesto where she took care of organisational aspects, a member of the Women's Antifascist Front and the Red Cross, and let healthcare seminars at the trade union branch of household assistants. In 1952, she took the initiative to establish a sub-board of the Slovenian Nurse Association in Novo mesto and was its president until 1959. For her work, she received the Red Order award, grade III, in 1956.
In 1961, she could have retired, but she concluded an agreement to continue working for unspecific period due to lack of staff. On 28 March 1965, she retired, but helped the nurses at the surgical department until 1968.
Marija Tomšič died in 1986. She has lived in Novo mesto most of her life. She spent her late years at her home at Trdinova Street with her sister Hermina and her family. As one of the few nurses educated before World War II in Slovenia and as the first educated nurse in the Dolenjska region she passed her knowledge to new generations of nurses and served them as a role model.
Zdenka Seničar: Marija Tomšič – pionirka zdravstvene nege na Dolenjskem. Accessed on 20 July 2017 at http://www.dmszt-nm.si/si/predstavitev/zgodovina/marija_tomsic/.