Women and the Sacred in the History of Health Care and Hospitals

AHA Session 270
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Suffolk Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania
Margaret M. McGuinness, La Salle University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the history of the sacred by examining significant topics in the study of women and the sacred in health care history. It brings together an array of some of the country’s leading historians of medicine and nursing from the University of Pennsylvania’s Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing. With methodologies as diverse as textual analysis and genealogy, it aims to provide thought-provoking discussions on the intersection of the disciplines of nursing, medicine, history, religion, and the social sciences. Each paper shares a commitment to an historical standpoint as a critical place to explore the contingent relationships among the social, religious, and economic forces that shaped health care and the women who practiced it.
Patricia O’Brien D’Antonio brings to light the interconnected sacred and professional lives of all seventeen graduates of the Latter Day Saints Nurses Training School Class of 1919, over almost six decades of their lives. These life stories, particularly when enriched by additional genealogical data from the LDS Family History Library and with the life stories of other graduates, place the experiences of these women at the nexus of ideas of women, work, family, and religion, and considers work and worship that took place not just within hospitals and health care agencies but also within families, and families’ particular patterns of wage work and unremunerated housework, care work, and that on farms or small businesses.
Next, Barbra Mann Wall takes the audience inside the world of Catholic hospitals. She uses cultural historical methodology by interpreting symbols such as art forms, hospital architecture, photographs, and clothing. Catholic sisters used these non-written texts to market their religious messages to their patients and to the general public. Catholic architecture and images changed over the later twentieth century as indicators of changes not only in religious beliefs, but also in ideas about what a hospital should be, who should run it, and who it should serve.
Winifred Connerton adds her perspectives on Protestant missionary nurses in the Philippines at the beginning of the U.S. colonial occupation.  Missionary nurses were part of the American colonial presence in the Philippines and part of the government’s program of Americanization there.  American missionary nurses actively participated in the colonial agenda by promoting nursing skills and Protestant values, even while advancing their own professional and religious interests.  Their work represented an area of intersection between society, the sacred, and the professional in the Philippines at the beginning of the American colonial occupation.

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