Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Labor of Caring: A History of the Oregon Nurses Association

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Labor of Caring: A History of the Oregon Nurses Association

Article excerpt

THE OREGON NURSES ASSOCIATION (ONA) has its origins in the flurry of organizational activities undertaken by women in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. A rapidly industrializing economy, momentous immigration and migration of peoples, and advances in transportation and communication fueled organizational energy. Many women sought a new public voice in education, civil rights, employment, health care, and government. Middle-class women in urban centers led efforts to consolidate local voluntary and religiously based community-betterment activities across the nation, and organizations such as the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the General Federation of Women's Clubs, the National Association of Colored Women, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Business and Professional Women's Clubs took shape. The massing of population in cities created both the need for and a supply of women in nursing. Trained nurses--that is, those formally educated--first banded together for mutual support in New York City in 1896; the group drew up its first bylaws at Baltimore in 1897. The organization grew and in 1911 took its modern name, the American Nurses Association (ANA). (1)

Women in Oregon were also re-imagining their place in public life. One flashpoint in this effort was the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905, held in Portland, which offered both a chance to showcase women's accomplishments and an opportunity to exert influence over the tone and substance of the event. (2) A group of trained nurses staffed the Exposition's infirmary and as a result of their experience formed the Oregon State Association of Trained Nurses (OSATN). At first, the OSATN focused on mutual aid to members and benevolence to the needy poor more than on advancing the profession of nursing. In this, the group had much in common with the YWCA and women's organizations that developed their purpose and mission in deeply gendered terms--as help, service, and duty to others rather than self. Their agenda also points to the limited support for nurses in the marketplace, such as sick benefits or unemployment relief, either in private employment (called "private duty") or in hospital settings.

Oregon's newly organized nurses attracted both encouragement and demands from the state's women's groups and clubs. In 1915, OSATN's board of directors had to delimit requests for scholarship funds, war work, and other benevolent activities made by women's organizations. These requests were "declined," the board minutes read; the organization "will stick to profession." (3) Protecting professional standing was urgent, the OSATN believed. Like other employment groups, nurses sought to lock in advances in wages and standing made in wartime. Moreover, the massive military casualties brought by World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918 put public health on the nation's agenda. With the passage of woman suffrage in 1919, organized women sought advances in a range of spheres, including education, employment, and the law. All of these factors shaped OSATN's protest letter, sent to the Portland city council in early 1920, with the criticism that "a position of Inspector in the Municipal Bureau of Public Health ... has been filled by a woman of no particular training...." (4) Though OSATN remained a member of the State Federation of Women's Clubs until 1960, the group emphasized regulating professionalism, very much in step with national trends in organized nursing. (5)

Before World War I, trained or "graduate" nursing in the United States took place in only a handful of centers for education and health care delivery. In Oregon, the first nursing "diploma" schools grew up alongside Portland's oldest hospitals, St Vincent's (Catholic) and Good Samaritan (Episcopalian). These hospitals opened in the 1870, and formalized their nurse training schools in the early 1890,. In 1897, the Portland Sanitarium and Hospital (Seventh-day Adventist) opened, and the Multnomah County Hospital Training School opened in 1909. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.