A nurse’s education was ‘bonded service’: But Florence Nightingale was a powerful inspiration

Sometimes it seems that nurses do everything. With a new mom still under general anesthetic after a complicated birth, Laura Vickory Hart took the newborn to meet his dada. Father was enchanted, but astonished at the babe’s giant, protruding ears, and seriously concerned about his wife’s reaction.

“She doesn’t take things as easily as I do,” he worried.

And so, anxious about the already exhausted, emotional mom’s possible upset, Hart tagged along when the wee one was finally introduced to his mama: “I placed the tiny bundle in his mother’s arms and eased the blanket back so that she could gaze upon her child for the first time. She took one look at her baby’s face and looked to her husband and gasped, ‘Oh, Honey! Look! He has your ears!”

That’s one of the 3,000 contributions sent in to Jack Canfield for inclusion in Chicken Soup For The Nurse’s Soul: 101 Stories To Celebrate, Honor And Inspire The Nursing Profession (2001).

The book begins with the Florence Nightingale Pledge (“devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care”). The celebrated British nurse founded her nursing school in 1860.

Work on the Sherbrooke Hospital – the region’s first English and Protestant institution – began in 1888, with the hospital formally inaugurated eight years later. It also housed a School Of Nursing. It’s been noted, however, that the school’s two years of education had “more in common with bonded service than education.” At the time, women who worked outside the home were thought of as shameful prostitutes, and certainly not much respected by the all-male doctors. (Nurses who married were fired, if they didn’t have the sense to resign.)

Second Blessing: A Centennial History Of Sherbrooke Hospital, 1888-1988, by (the late) area historian Bernard Epps, sheds light on the years of work by area businessmen, philanthropists, and wives (the Ladies’ Auxiliary) that went into the hospital’s founding.

Endless meetings preceded the privately-orchestrated project (governments did not become involved in healthcare until the mid-20th century). The land was bought with $500 down. Richard William Heneker ended up paying most of the total real estate cost of $1,780 himself.

Sherbrooke was then a city of 10,000, with a French hospital already on the go and nothing but economic growth on the horizon. The average lifespan was 49.

Patients were charged 50 cents a day, though no one was turned away. The cost of care was more than double that. The four physicians often worked for free.

The nurses (and students) led “closely supervised moral and spiritual lives while suffering two years of hands-on training that amounted to little more than indentured servitude.” They worked 14-hour days.

There’s also lots more history in the Centenary Souvenir Album, 1888-1988. It’s a giant scrapbook packed full of pictures, a mix of collage, yearbook, old newsletters and more. Staff from all departments are recalled – from janitors to orderlies, secretaries and volunteers, administrators and doctors. And of course, nurses.

The last class to graduate from the Sherbrooke Hospital School of Nurses was in 1972 (nursing education was taken over by CEGEPs after that). The book Graduate Of Sherbrooke Hospital was published to mark the 100th anniversary of the school (the book committee coordinator was Ruth Elkas Atto).

It’s a very personalized tome, filled with history, but also reminiscences and anecdotes. Wacky initiation rites included forcing the gals to wear their PJs inside out. They were blindfolded and tied to each other, then led about. Newbies on first shift were sent out at a run to the Emergency Room and ordered to return with a Fallopian tube! Success would, of course, have required surgery… The women would return feeling rather sheepish.

Many of the Sherbrooke Hospital books are in the Eastern Townships section; if you can’t find something, just ask! And all our Chicken Soup books – there’s a large collection – are in Adult Nonfiction 158.1.

– Eleanor Brown, Nov. 1, 2013

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About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au http://www.bibliolennoxvillelibrary.ca/ Click on the above to get to our website!
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