Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

One Hundred Years Ago

Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

One Hundred Years Ago

Article excerpt

Nursing Education at the Dawn of the 20th Century

THE LATE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH centuries ushered in a number of significant events that helped advance the nursing profession in its early development. Nursing leaders began to show interest in the reform movements under way, such as woman's suffrage, settlement houses, and labor activities. They knew that nurses were not alone in their struggle to improve the health of the public. Philanthropic groups abounded, working for social betterment as well as for changes needed in overcrowded tenements, food inspection, and information to the nation about healthy living (1). In addition, serious concerns surfaced in the profession relating to the proliferation of training schools and reforms required in the educational system.

Assessing their own situation, nursing's pioneers recognized the need for self-governance and curriculum standardization. They were confronted with several challenges, most predominantly the opposition from the medical community, which viewed many nurses as too independent and threatening to the positions of physicians (2). Another obstacle was that the boards of most hospitals with training schools found them to be extremely lucrative and relied largely on the services provided by students (2). Because nursing preparation assumed a secondary role, nurse educators were forced to offer training in a system that had little regard for women's education, roles, or professions.

The period from 1890 to 1900, characterized as the "fateful decade" in American nursing, generated a series of major developments that profoundly affected the profession's future (3). Well aware of external impediments, as well as those within nursing, a group of superintendents of training schools assembled in June 1893, during the World's Fair in Chicago, to explore pressing issues in the field. Through the collaboration of Isabel Hampton and Ethel Gordon Fenwick, a well-known British nursing leader (and founder, six years later, of the International Council of Nurses), a Nursing Congress was established in the Hall of Columbus. Other congresses had also been featured as part of the World's Columbian Exposition, designed as a celebration of women (4).

The evening before the conference of training school superintendents, a small group gathered in Katherine Lett's sitting room in the Residence of St. Luke's Hospital to discuss the possibility of forming a national association (4). The idea reached fruition the following morning when 18 of the nurses present drafted a resolution to form the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nursing (ASSTSN). The new organization, a first in the profession, changed its name in 1912 to the National League of Nursing Education, with membership extended to leaders in social, educational, and preventive nursing (5). The purposes of the ASSTSN were threefold: to promote fellowship of members, to establish and maintain a universal standard of training, and to further the best interests of the nursing profession (4).

Through the efforts of the Society, a second national nursing organization emerged in 1896, known as the Nurses' Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada. (It became the American Nurses Association in 1911.) Representing 40 local alumnae associations and approximately 3,000 nurses, the new association aimed to strengthen the union of nursing organizations, elevate nursing education, and promote ethical standards in all areas of the profession (6). In 1900, the ASSTSN and Nurses' Associated Alumnae affiliated under the title American Federation of Nurses. This group was admitted to the National Council of Women of the United States, a component of the International Council of Women (6).

During its infancy, the ASSTSN worked to develop a firm foundation to address the issue of a universal standard of training. Between 1894 and 1899, members flocked to annual conventions in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Toronto. …

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