American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and the Meaning of Work

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Overview

This new interpretation of the history of nursing in the United States captures the many ways women reframed the most traditional of all gender expectations—that of caring for the sick—to create new possibilities for themselves, to renegotiate the terms of some of their life experiences, and to reshape their own sense of worth and power.

For much of modern U.S. history, nursing was informal, often uncompensated, and almost wholly the province of female family and community members. This began to change at the end of the nineteenth century when the prospect of formal training opened for women doors that had been previously closed. Nurses became respected professionals, and becoming a formally trained nurse granted women a range of new social choices and opportunities that eventually translated into economic mobility and stability.

Patricia D'Antonio looks closely at this history—using a new analytic framework and a rich trove of archival sources—and finds complex, multiple meanings in the individual choices of women who elected a nursing career. New relationships and social and professional options empowered nurses in constructing consequential lives, supporting their families, and participating both in their communities and in the health care system.

Narrating the experiences of nurses, D'Antonio captures the possibilities, power, and problems inherent in the different ways women defined their work and lived their lives. Scholars in the history of medicine, nursing, and public policy, those interested in the intersections of identity, work, gender, education, and race, and nurses will find this a provocative book.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Susan M. Stover, RN, MLIS (Mote Marine Laboratory)
Description: With its foundation in the pre-Civil War era, this book chronicles the people, places, politics, and events that shaped the American nursing profession. The evolution of the range of disciplines within the field, the formation of nursing organizations, the development of licensure procedures, and the progression from hospital-based training to university education are woven throughout.
Purpose: "The author's objective is to describe the history of the nursing profession through the experiences of the nurses themselves. The stories she depicts show the differences and diversity within the profession and how women, and some men, defined the care of the sick. Another intention is to acquaint readers with the history of women and their struggle to become autonomous. The author's interpretation is an exceptionally informative record of nursing history. "
Audience: Her professional experience in nursing and its history are an excellent background for her work on this topic. Her in-depth research has enabled her to write a scholarly work that contains important information not only for those currently interested in nursing and U.S. history, but also for students and researchers. It also provides a framework for academic, research, and history discussions.
Features: The 18-page introduction is a well-written, comprehensive overview of each chapter that addresses the causes and consequences of the growth of nursing. The first chapter focuses on how nursing was perceived in and around Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. It is packed with noteworthy historical accounts, names, places, and publications. Although this chapter is interesting and factual, it addresses events and geographic areas in a random order, making it difficult to retain all the information. Chapters 2 and 3 define how nurse training developed in the early 20th century and how the need to care for immigrants and working families in their homes led to the role of the public health nurse. The next two chapters look at hospital training curricula and early university degree programs. The author specifically reviews the Latter-Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City and the experiences and educational opportunities in the state of Georgia. Although the plight of African American nurses is mentioned throughout the book, chapter 6 highlights their struggle for integration and equality, noting that by the late 1930s, state and national nursing organizations were under pressure to integrate nursing and eliminate both class and race stereotypes. Chapter 7 explores the demographics of 20th century nursing, identifying gender, race, age, and marital status data in the text and in easy-to-read tables. It recounts how WWII and a massive hospital building program in the 1940s created a potential nurse shortage. To counter this, a new category of nurse — the licensed practical nurse (LPN) — was created. It also led to the formation of the Cadet Nurse Corp that trained 127,000 nurses during that time. As over 9,000 new hospitals were constructed through the 1950s and early 1960s, the need for additional nurses continued. How this influx of professionals along with strict hospital accreditation measures and changes in medical insurance directives helped steer the progression of nurse training from hospital-based diploma nurses to the entry of community college and university educated professionals is discussed. Throughout, the author documents the movement from the 19th-century practice of nurses caring for patients with diet, rest, fresh air, exercise, and cleanliness, to their current use of observation, documentation of signs and symptoms, interpretation, and action. This transformation culminates in the last chapter, which clarifies how the expansion of professional nursing organizations, increased nursing licensure requirements, and new hospital accreditations influenced contemporary healthcare professions. The book concludes with an extensive 36 pages of notes and an interesting 13-page "Essay on Sources" that works well and adds key data.
Assessment: "As a library director, registered nurse, and former public health educator, I was drawn to the historical development of the profession, especially of public health and hospital nurses, and the struggle of the pioneers who chose this career. The book is a valuable resource and an excellent addition to any library's collection for those interested in the history of nursing and the struggle of a profession to become autonomous. An interesting anecdote from an early 20th-century nurse job description included "stoking the fire." Among my possessions is a copy of the job description of my great aunt's position as a teacher in the 1930s in a one-room schoolhouse in western Pennsylvania. Her list of duties included sweeping the floor and "stoking the fire." "
Choice

[D'Antonio] posits that people chose nursing because of the meaning and power that a nursing identity brought to their lives within both family and community and over a lifetime.

MedInfoNow
This new book is both a remarkable story about a noble profession and a rich illustration of the important place of the scholarly press.

— Dan Doody

Bookwatch
A rich analysis.
JAMA
The vignettes in this book provoke images of nurses not as powerless but rather as strong, often independent, women who take life fully into their own hands.

— Peter I. Buerhaus

American Historical Review
Ambitious history of women and work... The strengths of this book are many.

— Susan L. Smith

Doody Reviews
Reviewer: Susan M. Stover, RN, MLIS (Mote Marine Laboratory)
Description: With its foundation in the pre-Civil War era, this book chronicles the people, places, politics, and events that shaped the American nursing profession. The evolution of the range of disciplines within the field, the formation of nursing organizations, the development of licensure procedures, and the progression from hospital-based training to university education are woven throughout.
Purpose: The author's objective is to describe the history of the nursing profession through the experiences of the nurses themselves. The stories she depicts show the differences and diversity within the profession and how women, and some men, defined the care of the sick. Another intention is to acquaint readers with the history of women and their struggle to become autonomous. The author's interpretation is an exceptionally informative record of nursing history.
Audience: Her professional experience in nursing and its history are an excellent background for her work on this topic. Her in-depth research has enabled her to write a scholarly work that contains important information not only for those currently interested in nursing and U.S. history, but also for students and researchers. It also provides a framework for academic, research, and history discussions.
Features: The 18-page introduction is a well-written, comprehensive overview of each chapter that addresses the causes and consequences of the growth of nursing. The first chapter focuses on how nursing was perceived in and around Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. It is packed with noteworthy historical accounts, names, places, and publications. Although this chapter is interesting and factual, it addresses events and geographic areas in a random order, making it difficult to retain all the information. Chapters 2 and 3 define how nurse training developed in the early 20th century and how the need to care for immigrants and working families in their homes led to the role of the public health nurse. The next two chapters look at hospital training curricula and early university degree programs. The author specifically reviews the Latter-Day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City and the experiences and educational opportunities in the state of Georgia. Although the plight of African American nurses is mentioned throughout the book, chapter 6 highlights their struggle for integration and equality, noting that by the late 1930s, state and national nursing organizations were under pressure to integrate nursing and eliminate both class and race stereotypes. Chapter 7 explores the demographics of 20th century nursing, identifying gender, race, age, and marital status data in the text and in easy-to-read tables. It recounts how WWII and a massive hospital building program in the 1940s created a potential nurse shortage. To counter this, a new category of nurse — the licensed practical nurse (LPN) — was created. It also led to the formation of the Cadet Nurse Corp that trained 127,000 nurses during that time. As over 9,000 new hospitals were constructed through the 1950s and early 1960s, the need for additional nurses continued. How this influx of professionals along with strict hospital accreditation measures and changes in medical insurance directives helped steer the progression of nurse training from hospital-based diploma nurses to the entry of community college and university educated professionals is discussed. Throughout, the author documents the movement from the 19th-century practice of nurses caring for patients with diet, rest, fresh air, exercise, and cleanliness, to their current use of observation, documentation of signs and symptoms, interpretation, and action. This transformation culminates in the last chapter, which clarifies how the expansion of professional nursing organizations, increased nursing licensure requirements, and new hospital accreditations influenced contemporary healthcare professions. The book concludes with an extensive 36 pages of notes and an interesting 13-page "Essay on Sources" that works well and adds key data.
Assessment: As a library director, registered nurse, and former public health educator, I was drawn to the historical development of the profession, especially of public health and hospital nurses, and the struggle of the pioneers who chose this career. The book is a valuable resource and an excellent addition to any library's collection for those interested in the history of nursing and the struggle of a profession to become autonomous. An interesting anecdote from an early 20th-century nurse job description included "stoking the fire." Among my possessions is a copy of the job description of my great aunt's position as a teacher in the 1930s in a one-room schoolhouse in western Pennsylvania. Her list of duties included sweeping the floor and "stoking the fire." "
JAMA - Peter I. Buerhaus
The vignettes in this book provoke images of nurses not as powerless but rather as strong, often independent, women who take life fully into their own hands.
American Historical Review - Susan L. Smith
Ambitious history of women and work... The strengths of this book are many.
Choice
[D'Antonio] posits that people chose nursing because of the meaning and power that a nursing identity brought to their lives within both family and community and over a lifetime.
Library Journal
Focusing on the latter half of the 19th century to the immediate post-World War II period, D'Antonio (associate director, Barbara Bates Ctr. for the Study of the History of Nursing, Univ. of Pennsylvania) discusses the inspiration of Florence Nightingale that led to the emergence of professional nursing. She documents how nursing, originally viewed as a new career opportunity for middle-class white women, slowly and painfully achieved a measure of racial integration and gender diversity. The rise of public health nursing and the transformation of nursing education from hospital-based training to university degree programs are also covered. Most of all, D'Antonio enlightens her readers on the personal lives of individual nurses. Often moving from a challenging workload to full-time family responsibilities, nurses struggled to gain community respect, establish positive working relationships with physicians, and achieve salaries appropriate to their physically demanding and stressful jobs. Because of D'Antonio's decision to focus on nursing's first century, the book's title claims a bit too much. Significant recent issues such as the rise of nursing homes and assisted living and the increasing prominence of nurse practitioners are unfortunately omitted. VERDICT D'Antonio writes for a scholarly audience, making the book appropriate for academic and professional libraries that can afford its steep price.—Kathy Arsenault, St. Petersburg, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801895654
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 6/7/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 391,028
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia D'Antonio is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the associate director of the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is a Senior Fellow with the Leonard Davis Institute. She is an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Manchester's School of Nursing, Midwifery, and Social Work; a coeditor of Nurses' Work: Issues across Time and Place and Enduring Issues in American Nursing, and the author of Founding Friends: Families, Staff, and Patients at the Friends Asylum in Early Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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