Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Upper Social Strata Women in Nursing in Turkey

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Upper Social Strata Women in Nursing in Turkey

Article excerpt

The development of nursing education in Turkey was influenced by the twentieth-century political changes that encouraged the involvement of women in social life in Turkey. This study examines this development, beginning in the early twentieth century, including the role of relations between nurses in Turkey and the United States in advancing nursing education. The work is based on Ottoman archival sources, publications of the Ottoman-Turkish Red Crescent, and research on the history of nursing education in Turkey. The names of the institutions mentioned in documents and published works are in English, with the original Turkish names in parentheses. The dates in the Ottoman calendar (reckoned from the Hegira, Muslim era) and Roman calendar (adapted from the Gregorian calendar) that were used by Ottoman officials in their correspondence have been converted to the Western Christian calendar. English translations of Turkish references are in parentheses.


Healing is one of the oldest arts, but we do not have very much information on how it was practiced among the Turks of Central Asia before they converted to Islam in the ninth century. We know that their healers were shamans,1 and were called qam or oyun. The female healers, called qam hatun (qam woman), were believed to be the most powerful ones.2 After the Turks accepted Islam, their traditions gradually adapted to their new religion. During the Ottoman Empire, from 1299 to the middle of the nineteenth century, many hospitals (darüssifas, houses of healing) were built by the Ottoman sultans, statesmen, and wealthy men and women. Only men were treated in these hospitals, taken care of by male nurses called kayyûm. Ottoman hospital records indicate that no female patients were admitted and no female nurses were employed.3

The classical Ottoman administrative system began to change significantly in 1839, the beginning of the Reformation Period (Tanzimat). Public administration, military organization, and educational institutions were reshaped to resemble more closely those of the West. Teachers for schools of engineering (die Royal Engineering School, Muhendishane-i Hümayun) and medicine (the Royal Medical School, Mekteb-i Tibbiye-i Sahane) were invited from Europe. Laboratories were equipped with instruments from the West, and libraries collected books printed in the West. The transmission of Western scientific developments would continue uninterrupted in the Republic of Turkey. The principle was not the reform of old institutions, but their abolition and replacement by modern ones.

The administrative and military reforms had implications for social institutions and daily life. Women were admitted to institutions of public education in a limited number of fields, first as midwives and later as teachers. Women from the upper social strata were trained at home by private teachers. While the Ottoman darüssifas continued to function, they were complemented with hundreds of military hospitals extending across Ottoman territories from present-day Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Bulgaria in the Balkans to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Syria in the Middle East, as well as by hospices, quarantine facilities, and vaccination laboratories.4

Classes in health care were also offered at the School for Midwives, which was opened as part of the Medical School in 1842, and the graduates of this school worked at the hospitals and clinics of die School of Medicine together with colleagues from Europe. Patient care received greater attention starting in 1891, following the reorganization of the School for Midwives in 1889, but women did not yet care for male patients.5

Wars and the Involvement of Women in the Care of Male Patients

The Ottoman Reformation period also saw the establishment of scientific, professional, and social associations. One such society was the Rescue Society (Cemiyet-i tmdadiye), established during the Ottoman-Greek war (1897) by Fatma Aliye, daughter of prominent statesman and cultural icon Ahmet Cevdet Pasha. …

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