Cultivating Health: Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform

Cultivating Health: Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform

Cultivating Health: Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform

Cultivating Health: Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform

Synopsis

At the dawn of the Progressive Era, when America was experiencing an industrial boom, many working families often ate contaminated food, lived in decaying urban tenements, and had little access to medical care. In a city that demanded change, Los Angeles women, rather than city officials, championed the call to action.

Cultivating Health, an interdisciplinary chronicle, details women's impact on remaking health policy, despite the absence of government support. Combining primary source and municipal archival research with comfortable prose, Jennifer Lisa Koslow explores community nursing, housing reform, milk sanitation, childbirth, and the campaign against venereal disease in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Los Angeles. She demonstrates how women implemented health care reform and civic programs while laying the groundwork for a successful transition of responsibility back to government.

Koslow highlights women's home health care and urban policy-changing accomplishments and pays tribute to what would become the model for similar service-based systems in other American centers.

Excerpt

In the early 1900s, most women experienced the rigors of childbirth at home. Whom could they call when complications occurred? In the case of a thirty-fiveyear-old Russian immigrant woman who failed to regain her strength two weeks after giving birth, her family did not call a physician or a midwife. Instead, they asked a social service agency, the Los Angeles College Settlement Association, to send a nurse. Upon arrival, the nurse assessed the patient as having “made a very poor recovery, was anemic, no appetite, and running a little temperature.” Following the protocol set forth by her supervisor, a reformer by the name of Maude Foster Weston, the nurse advocated sending the patient to the hospital. The family, however, “positively refused to allow” this. Their response probably did not surprise the nurse because aversion to hospitalization was a fairly typical response among the working class during this period. Despite her supervisor’s policy directives, the nurse revised her plan and called for a physician, who left medicines to be administered daily. Yet, the patient would not take the medication unless the nurse was present, leaving the family “very much dissatisfied” when the patient did not improve. The family’s actions frustrated the nurse. She resolved the issue by threatening never to return “unless they would do as they were told.” Presumably because they still wanted help, the family complied. According to the nurse’s account, although it took “two months of hard work,” she finally began to see a recovery. The nurse ended her report by stating “we have gained the confidence of the family and they know what was done was for the welfare of the patient.” The nurse restored this patient’s health but her assistance felt obtrusive and engendered suspicion.

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