Margaret M Allemang Centre for the History of Nursing
Bulletin Description Bulletin Archives Membership
Description Bulletin Archives Membership




MARCH 1989

Margaret M. Allemang Centre for Nursing History

Editor: Natalie Riegler, RN, PhD. 3 Dromore Crescent, Willowdale, Ontario, M2R 2H4.
TEL: 416-221-5632 E-MAIL:



Date: Wednesday, 26 April 1989 (RNAO convention).

Place:Royal York Hotel (Confederation #3 Room, main mezzanine level).

Time: 5-6:30 P.M.

Papers:Carol Helmstadter, R.N., M.A., "The `Efficient Nurse' Within the Great London Hospitals 1845-1890: A Study of Organizational Relationships Between Nurses, Doctors and Administrators."

Pauline Jardine, R.N., "`Redundancy', A Crisis for Middle-Class Women: Nursing and Middle-Class Women's Paid Work in Ontario 1884-1914."

Lynn Kirkwood, R.N., Ph.D., "Professionalizing Strategies--Nursing Expertise vs. Nursing Functions: Nursing Courses at Canadian Universities 1920-1940."

Cost: None at present. As a potential RNAO Interest Group,we are being given a room to hold a meeting during the convention.

BOOK REVIEW: By Natalie Riegler

Susan M. Reverby. Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850-1945. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

In 1987 the American Association for the History of Nursing awarded their first Lavinia L. Dock Award to Susan Reverby for her book, Ordered to Care. There are no recent nursing history books which have the breadth, social context and quantity of

reference notes as does Ordered to Care and for this reason alone the book should be required reading on any nursing history course. This is not to suggest, however, that it is without faults, but in consideration of what Reverby has provided these are of lesser importance.

The events in the development of nursing which Reverby has interpreted, within a feminist perspective, are pertinent to Canada as well as the USA. She argues that nursing is obligated to care in a society that refuses to value caring and functions within a gender segregated labour market which is oppressed by a patriarchal system in the workplace. Thus nurses lack the power or autonomy to substantiate their claim to "caring". Reverby theorizes that nursing has been limited by 1) imagination, 2) cultural ideology, 3) economics, and 4) political power (p.1).

The book is divided into three parts, the period prior to formalized nursing education, the apprenticeship of the nurse to duty and the reformation of nursing. Reverby begins by showing that women were able to move from the private sphere of the home to the public sphere because they could transfer the socially accepted women's duty of caring in the home to the professed nurse caring in the home and eventually to the hospital. The second chapter argues that the nurse, in moving from the home to the hospital, found herself struggling for autonomy in an institution oriented to medical etiology.

In the second part Reverby, using a nursing model which incorporates idealism, discipline, acceptance, and a belief in equal power, argues that the basic nursing standard was character rather than education of the nurse. The remaining three chapters describe the development of the pupil nurse as a hospital machine in which training was work rather than education, provide information as to who entered nursing and finally, attend to the major area of post student work, that is, the evolution of private duty nursing.

The final segment of four chapters is a discussion on the formation of nursing: the struggle for professionalization by raising educational standards and enacting Registration laws, the resentment of graduate staff nurses towards Superintendents of Nurses, and the importance of qualitative (caring) vs. quantitative (knowledge) in nursing.

There are several weaknesses a Canadian nurse historian should keep in mind when using this book. Firstly, it is USA oriented; the three major time periods are related to the American Civil War: ante-bellum, civil war and post-bellum. The reader must remember that, despite the generalization of the title and text to include all of the USA during 1850 to 1945, Reverby's statements are based on content from three hospitals on the north-eastern Atlantic seaboard: Boston City Hospital, Somerville Hospital, and Long Island Hospital and refer mainly to the hospital nurse. Finally, when dealing with Canadian nurses, such as Bertha Harmer and Ethel Johns, she absorbs them into the American scene without identifying them as Canadians.

Some minor details might be corrected by editing. In this clearly and intelligibly written book Reverby has inserted three words: bourgeois (p.112), scut (p.149), and oligopsonist (p.192) which I found jarring and inappropriate to her style of writing. The first, when used in social-labour history, is a Marxist term and functions best within a Marxian context, the next is a colloquialism and the last is overwhelming; oligopsonist is the only word in her text which required me to consult a dictionary and for which I still have not found a definition. Secondly, the Tables in Chapter 1, though providing interesting data, are not congruent with the explanation in the text. On page 16, Reverby states that "seventy-five percent of the nurses who ended their days in the home began life on the farms and in the small towns of rural New England (see Table I.I)"; however, the table does not provide such information.

Finally, Reverby in analyzing nursing within the oppressive model of feminist theory has failed to capture the appeal of caring, or altruism, which attracts females to a career in nursing. Furthermore, at times, she interprets her data with value-laden terms which detract from the scholarliness of her research. For example, she describes Adelaide Nutting's marginal note on Winford Smith's letter as having been "mockingly added." (p.165); it is not clear as to whether or not this is Reverby's interpretation or Nutting's feelings. Later she states that "the increased technical medical procedures physicians were "too busy" to perform were added to the nurse's other, . . ., tasks."(p.181). I would argue that her stressing of the word added is a value-laden interpretation.

Nevertheless Reverby has provided us with a picture and analysis of past influences on the development of nursing which are pertinent to our understanding of today's nurses and their struggle for autonomy, recognition and involvement in the health care system.


Fifth Annual Fall Conference on Nursing History

Meryn E. Stuart, R.N., Ph.D., "Writing the Feminist Biography of a Twentieth Century Public Health Nurse."

Judith Young, M.Sc.N., "Attitudes and Practices Towards Families at the Hospital for Sick Children Toronto 1935 to 1975."

The conference was sponsored by the American Association for the History of Nursing and the College of Nursing and Health, University of Cincinnati, 25-27 September 1988.


25-28 April 1989. RNAO Annual Meeting, Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Ontario

28-29 April 1989. "Nightingale and her Era: New Scholarship about Women and Nursing." School of Nursing, University of Buffalo, State University of New York.

22-25 September 1989. The Sixth Fall Conference of the American Association for the History of Nursing to be held with Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.


Bullough, Vern, Olga Church and Alice P. Stein. American Nursing: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., c1988.

According to the flyer, this book provides an "insightful picture of women born mainly in the period between 1860 and 1920" who "have made a significant contribution to the field of nursing or to society, and be no longer living."

Bullough, Vern L. Bonnie Bullough, Jane Garvey and Karen Miller Allen. Issues in Nursing: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., c1988.

The flyer states that the authors focus on current issues but include "selected historical works."

Bullough, Bonnie, Vern L. Bullough and Barrett Elcano. Nursing: A Historical Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., c1988.

This book is advertised as bringing together 5000 entries of "journal articles, books, and government documents about the history of nursing, many dating from the early 20th century. Coverage extends to 1978. . . . All but 1,000 entries have been verified."

Butterworth Hospital School of Nursing. Ninety-Five Years of Nursing Education 1890-1985. Michigan: Butterworth Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association, 1986.

Fee, Elizabeth, and Daniel Fox, eds. Aids: The Burden of History Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1988?.

The volume is described as a collection illuminating present concerns and reminding us "that many of the issues now being debated . . . have their parallels in the past."

Ford, Ann. A History of the College of Nurses of Ontario. Toronto: College of Nurses of Ontario, 1988.

Summers, Anne. Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses 1854-1914. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988.


College of Nurses. "Registered Nursing Assistants: A Contribution to the Nursing Team and Council." College Communique 13 (October 1988): 8-10.

College of Nurses of Ontario. "Continuing Competence: An Historical Perspective." College Communique 13 (December 1988): 12-14.

. "Nursing in Ontario: The Years in Pictures." College Communique 13 (December 1988): 16-20.

Larson, Elaine, R.N., Ph.D. "Innovations in Health Care: Antisepsis as a Case Study." American Journal of Public Health 79 (January 1989): 92-99.

Elaine Larson traces the development of antisepsis as a concept and practice with emphasis on the contribution of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, Dr. Joseph Lister and Nurse Florence Nightingale.

Tullis, Carole. "A Look at the Alumnae Association WCH School of Nursing." House Call (Women's College Hospital) 8 (Fall 1988): 16-17.

Viens, Diane C. "A History of Nursing's Code of Ethics." Nursing Outlook 37 (January/February 1989): 45-49.


Smith, Melissa A. A Survey of Sources for the Study of the History of Child Studies at the Rockefeller Archive Center New York: Rockefeller Archive Center, 1988 [?]. 86pp.

The notice describes it as containing primarily materials from the Commonwealth Fund, the General Education Board, and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Collections. The scope of the collection is philanthropic concerns for the health, safety, mental and social development of children in American society, e.g., clean milk campaigns and jobs for unemployed youths,.

For a free copy of the survey write the Director, Rockefeller Archive Center, 15 Dayton Avenue, Pocantico Hills, North Tarrytown, New York 10591-1598, or telephone 914/631-4505.


Flaws, Elizabeth, Toronto General Hospital 1895, Superintendent of Wellesley Hospital 1912-1926. Her ledgers during the time when she was Lady Superintendent, Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1904-1912 are in the Alumnae files at Butterworth Hospital.


RNAO. "Nurses' Duties 100 Years Ago." The R.N.A.O. News 44 (November 1988): 24.


Did you see the recent article "Reference Sources for Nursing" in Nursing Outlook 36 (September/October 1988): 246-248? The section "Histories" included sixteen entries for the USA and only three for Canada: the CNA's The Leaf and the Lamp (1968) and The Seventh Decade (1981), and Gibbon and Mathewson's Three Centuries of Canadian Nursing (1947). I think our history merits better advertising than that. What do you think?


"If ought be worse than failure from overstress of life's purpose it is to sit down content with a little success."

[By Owen Meredith pseudo. of Bulwer Lytton. Cited by Jean Gunn at conclusion of Annual Report, 25 May 1922, p.7].


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