Conference Agenda

4D: Nurses and Midwives
Wednesday, 08/Sept/2021:
3:15pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Prof. Hilary Marland, U of Warwick, Great Britain


Faith in Care: Religion and Conversion in Nursing, 1918 - 1965

Chaney, Sarah; Reed, Frances

RCN Library and Archive Service, United Kingdom

When teenager Maria Lorentzon ran away from her home in Sweden to train as a nurse in London in 1960, she was surprised by the way religion permeated hospital wards. Her hospital “was very Anglican” she recalled in an oral history for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). There were ward services on Sundays and only a communicant in the Church of England could be hired as matron. By 1960, Lorentzon thought, “the cracks really were beginning to show”, and she refused to take part in “conversion activities”.

Nursing in many countries has been closely linked to religious orders since at least the Middle Ages. Historians of nineteenth century nursing, like Siobhan Nelson, have highlighted the “conventual” atmosphere in nursing schools and connections with religious groups. This practice inspired and supported the popular notion of nursing as a vocation, a calling and an act of service.

As Maria Lorentzon’s story shows, the close connection between religion and nursing continued well into the twentieth century, although this has received rather less attention from historians. Drawing on oral histories, books and objects from the RCN collection used in our exhibition Who Cares? A History of Emotions in Nursing, this paper argues for a need to look critically at the way religious faith has shaped nursing care and practice. We reflect on our learning from developing the exhibition around the way stories of faith in nursing are shared with a public audience and conclude with some important questions for the history of nursing.

Proselytizing for the Nursing Profession: American Mission Nurses in Iran, 1916-1979

Wytenbroek, Lydia

University of British Columbia, Canada

In the twentieth century, American missionary nurses, working under the auspices of the American Presbyterian Mission to Iran, established areas of educational innovation within mission medicine and Iranian healthcare. Drawing on the records of the American Presbyterian Historical Society, as well as oral histories, memoirs and family photographs, I consider the tensions these women faced between their professional and religious work. In their applications to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, they emphasized their personal faith and religiosity. Once they were in Iran, however, they strived to develop the nursing profession and “produce fine nurses for Iran.” In effect, they proselytized for the nursing profession. Missionary nurse Eunice Baber noted: "I am not a born missionary, but I am a fanatic about nursing." This paper considers how American nurses reframed their nursing work as Christian service and used this idea of Christian service to argue for the provision of high quality health care and nursing education. In this paper, I complicate the often false dichotomy between science and religion and reshape scholarly understanding about transnational medical encounters.

The Dutch Catholic midwives Union: More than shared values ?

Pruijt, Marga

Tilburg University, Netherlands, The

After being granted full political rights in the nineteenth, Catholics in the Netherlands started an traject of emancipation. In the political system of pillarisation all social groups got rights to build their own social structure including schools, political parties and professional organisations. In 1912 a Catholic school for midwives was formed and in 1921 a Catholic midwives organisation, the Rooms-Katholieke Bond van vroedvrouwen. Not the midwives themselves, but the clergy initiated this occupational union. The midwives in the southern provinces, that are mainly populated by a Catholic population, welcomed this step. Among a group of 900 midwives in totality, the Catholic Union united about half of the 200 Catholic midwives.

In this lecture I want to address the question what the Catholic midwives Union meant in the pre-war period (1920-1940) for its members, inspired by theories of Freidson, Johnson and Witz. Was the Catholic midwives Union able to represent the voice of its members, and if so, in what ways? Was it especially a community where Catholic midwives shared their religious values and rituals? Did the Union support the acceptance of Catholic midwives by the local population and government to be a trusted partner in the care of mothers and infants? How did the union act on debates on midwifery and obstetric knowledge? How did the promotion of the midwives economic interests take place?

In my lecture I want to give an overview of these issues, based on my PHD research on Midwives in Noord-Brabant 1861-1941.