“Essentially a woman’s work”: A history of general nursing in New Zealand, 1830-1930
Sargison, Patricia Ann
At the time of the first European settlement of New Zealand, nursing was vaguely defined, an amorphous collection of domestic duties undertaken mostly by women, usually within the confines of the home. By 1930, it was regarded as a professional occupation, for which young single women undertook a specific course of training, passed examinations and were registered as properly qualified by the State. This thesis examines the ways in which nursing achieved this transition and the ideological foundations on which the new "profession" was built. It focuses on general nursing, rather than psychiatric nursing or midwifery, and it concentrates on the three- or four-year period of training which every nurse undertook within a hospital before entering the workforce as a trained nurse. At the same time, it includes a collective biography of the women who worked as nurses in New Zealand, both those untrained women who cared for family, friends and paying patients in their communities in the 19th century, and the the women who became New Zealand's "Nightingales", its first trained and registered nurses, in the period 1892-1930. Nursing in this period remained "essentially a woman's work". Nursing reformers incorporated into trained female nursing ideologies of "womanliness". In order to achieve respectability for nursing, they shaped the "good nurse" as first and foremost a "good woman", pure, gentle, disciplined, self-sacrificing and unquestioningly obedient to male authority. The thesis examines both the positive and negative impacts of this philosophy. Nurses achieved a measure of professional recognition and a high degree of public approbation. On the other hand, because theirs was "woman's work", the formal education they received was minimal, and pay and working conditions were less than adequate. Nurses remained the "handmaidens" of doctors and the "servants" of hospital administrators. A new generation of nurses in the 1920s began to question the ideologies of the past, but nursing leaders remained committed to the "true spirit of nursing" and reforms were accordingly very limited in scope.
Advisor: Olssen, Eric; Brookes, Barbara
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: History
Research Type: Thesis
Format: viii, 285 leaves: illustrated; 30 cm.