With a Dauntless Spirit: Alaska Nursing in Dog-Team Days

Article excerpt

With a Dauntless Spirit: Alaska Nursing in Dog-Team Days Edited by Effie Graham, Jackie Pflaum, and Elfrida Nord (Fairbanks AK: University of Alaska Press, 2003) (345 pages; $45.99 cloth; $21.95 paper)

Imagine being a public health nurse having to travel for day upon day by dogsled, sleeping out in the open rain without shelter or in a hole in the snow with only a tarp for a roof! Imagine living in a remote tundra village and receiving fresh fruit and mail only four times a year, that is if the provision boat can get through, or being the only health-care provider available during a diphtheria epidemic that affected a whole village! Drawing primarily upon letters and memoirs archived at the University of Alaska's Rasmuson Library, Effie Graham, Jackie Pflaum, and Elfrida Nord wrote With a Dauntless Spirit: Alaska. Nursing in Dog-Team Days to give voice to the personal and professional experiences of six nurses. These nurses traveled to Alaska from more urban areas and worked in the often desolate and remote rural regions of the Alaska Territory from 1907 through 1947. They had little preparation for the professional, emotional, or physical demands they were to encounter. Yet the excerpts from their letters and memoirs demonstrate their resourcefulness and determination to provide nursing care in spite of the climatically induced rigors and the often culturally mediated differences between patients and caregivers. Living and working as a nurse in the Alaska Territory in the early part of the last century was indeed a job only for those with dauntless spirits.

The book is divided into eight chapters with an introduction, conclusion, appendix, and selected historical pictures that enhance the reader's understanding of the nurses' stories. The introduction describes the editors' methods for selecting data, the archives from which the authors gleaned data, and information about the nurses. The conclusion expresses the editors' ideas about the themes of the nurses' shared experiences. The appendix is a 1938 version of nursing job descriptions from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The addition of a medical glossary suggests that this book is also intended for an audience beyond the health-care professions.

Chapters 1 and 2 summarize the Alaskan social, education, health-care, geographic, political, and cultural contexts within which these nurses practiced and also provide an overview of modern Alaskan history under Russian and later United States control. Each of chapters three through eight is devoted to one of the six nurses and begin with a brief biography. Written in 1956, chapter 3 consists of Lula Welch's short memoir of her experience in a mining camp hospital from 1907 to 1918. Chapter 4 is a collection of letters written between 1922 and 1926 by Augusta Mueller while she served as a nurse in the Barrow Presbyterian Hospital mission. Chapter 5 includes a selection of letters and monthly reports of Stella Louise Fuller, the first Red Cross Delano nurse assigned to Alaska from 1922 to 1924. …