American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and the Meaning of Work

By Schultz, Jane E. | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and the Meaning of Work


Schultz, Jane E., Nursing History Review


American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority, and the Meaning of Work By Patricia D'Antonio (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) (251 pages, $60.00 cloth; $30.00 paper)

Patricia D'Antonio's wide-ranging history presents a key piece of the puzzle that constitutes American nursing, from the earliest inklings of a professional ethos in the 1830s to the 21st-century nursing shortage. Building on the nearly three decades of scholarship that has aligned professional development with the evolution of women as actors in American history,1 D'Antonio considers the life cycle of nursing and nurses by putting "gender, class, race, and place" at the center of the story (p. xiii). Skillfully weaving together the disparate narratives of stakeholders as different as the Mormon graduates of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) nurse training school in Salt Lake City from the Lincoln Hospital School's African American nurses in New York City, the author never loses sight of the ways in which professional acumen-made possible by the late 19th- and early 20th-century emphasis on scientific training-drew the upwardly mobile to nursing without sending the elite White women of nursing's bread-and-butter years from 1900 to 1930 to the exits. A "strong professional identity" (p. 174) occasionally trumped competing class and racial interests among nurses in ways that might surprise us. D'Antonio recounts the organizational history of North Carolina's nurses of color in the segregationist 1940s and 1950s, who chose to embrace professional status even as state nursing organizations run by Whites refused to acknowledge them. Knowledge claims, the author concludes, always had the power to transcend divisive sites of professional engagement.

Many years of archival work are visible in this book, but readers will also find a statistical apparatus that quantifies and differentiates nurses by gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, and education. D'Antonio's qualitative insights about individuals weighing professional choices against those of marriage and motherhood give this national story a rich texture without sacrificing broader historical generalizations relevant to women's flickering status in the workplace. We meet Easterner Charlotte Dancy, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and a convert to Mormonism, who moved to Utah to superintend students at the LDS Hospital and was never married-unlike most LDS graduates, more than half of whom in the class of 1919 did not practice their profession because they could not reconcile profession with motherhood. African American women in the East and Midwest never experienced this luxury of choice, finding ways to accommodate family and profession equally; still, an improvement over caring for White children as domestics and sick nurses, and being obliged to take their meals in the kitchen. D'Antonio is particularly attentive to the vectors of race as they shaped access to nursing education and organizational apartheid: She observes ironies in the ease with which African American nurses found work in the South, where White elites avoided nursing altogether; and the difficulties that Chinese nursing hopefuls encountered when racially motivated admissions and hiring policies in the 1920s banned those shorter than five-foot-two from practicing. …

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