Over time there have been numerous books about the degree of relevance that nursing is given as a profession and as a form of science. This paper shall seek to present a comparative discussion on two books that are of prominence in this regard. The first is Handling the sick: the women of St. Luke’s and the nature of nursing, 1892-1937 by Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh, while the second is Ordered to care: the dilemma of American nursing, 1850-1945 by Susan Reverby. The following paragraphs shall attempt to highlight the key areas of this book and shall attempt to present a contrast between the perspectives that they present.
Susan Reverby states very clearly in the first few pages of her book: “I will argue that nursing is a form of labor shaped by the obligation to care. But its history, and ultimately its identity cannot be understood unless the bond that has wedded it to womanhood is also unraveled and revealed” (Reverby, 1987, p. 1) It is evident from this excerpt that the focus of Susan Reverby’s book – Ordered to Care is not nursing itself, but nursing as a profession that is generally accredited to women.
She does not present details that could be attributed to her perspective of nursing as a profession that can be regarded as equal for both genders but chooses to address nursing as it evolved for the woman of the society and how the woman’s ability to care became an integral part of modern day nursing. In Ordered to Care, Susan Reverby frequently mentions historical events in the history of nursing that served to change the way that nursing is perceived today. She does so in order to present propositions and claims in retrospect and seeks to provide the reader with a cause-and-effect based relationship between the events that she brings up.
Susan Reverby is of the opinion that nursing underwent a steady paced process through which it was eventually feminized. She mentions nursing revolutionists such as Elizabeth Christopher Hobson and also mentions pioneers in the field of nursing such as the kinds of Florence Nightingale. Susan Reverby gives special regard to the nursing as a woman’s profession in her book and highlights the areas and events that led to the development of nursing to a point where it can now be considered to be a profession that is free of any form of negative sexuality that could be expected to give room to eroticism as was the case in 1872.
A Georgia Sturtevant may have been impressed by hospital order and the gentleness of the nurses, but charity reformer Elizabeth Christopher Hobson was overwhelmed in 1872 by the unspeakable dirt, foul smells and disorder she encountered when touring New York’s Bellevue Hospital” (Reverby, 1987, p. 39) It is however, essential to highlight that through discussions such as the author Susan Reverby is by no means attempting to present a chronological elaboration of nursing but is in fact seeking to develop the bigger picture through which a reader can see exactly how nursing has become the complex profession it is perceived as today.
When one was to read Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh’s Handling the sick: the women of St. Luke’s and the nature of nursing, 1892-1937, it is evident that the authors were just as inspired by revolutionary and pioneering figures in the history of nursing as was Susan Reverby in Ordered to care: the dilemma of American nursing. The presence of this relationship can be surmised through the fact that while Susan Reverby chooses to elaborate on the precise implications that Florence Nightingale had on nursing, Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh choose to begin their book with her quotation. In the book Handling the sick: the women of St.
Luke’s and the nature of nursing, 1892-1937 by Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh, the authors choose to focus on the development of nursing as a profession with regard to the general external factors that had an implication on nursing when nursing from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. The authors provide an discussion on the evolution of nursing during this time period in manner in which they choose to discuss aspects such as technology and the desire amongst nursing professionals to associate nursing with aspects that pertained to care and concern for patients rather than with aspects that pertained to technological advancements.
Also, while Susan Reverby chooses to rest her discussion on nursing upon the evolution of nursing with respect to the role and perception of women in the field of nursing, Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh choose to rest their discussion on not only the events and incidents that served an integral purpose in the dictation of the history of nursing but also address how research on nursing during the years of 1892 and 1937 contributed to the development of the nursing profession and the evolution of its perception in society. A major work on Nebraska nursing education, for instance, concludes that little direct evidence exists about early training programs because, in general, programs did not keep records. In place of such evidence, the study is typical of other in its dependence on accreditation material from the state board of nursing, along with legislative documents, to infer what apprenticeship in nursing was like” (Olson & Walsh, 2004, p. 4).
Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh are of the opinion that the degree to which professionalism has dominated nursing and the degree to which historians have chosen to give reverence to professionalism in their portrayal of nursing history play highly significant roles in the history of nursing. It is also evident that the authors have chosen to present nursing as a field which is influenced significantly as a result of new developments.
These new developments may not necessarily have to be associated with the constituent elements of nursing but can also be found to exist in the form of the development of the perception of nursing in society. It can therefore be surmised that while Ordered to care: the dilemma of American nursing, 1850-1945 by Susan Reverby is a highly credible and informative book, the author appears to have given a high degree of regard to the role of women in the evolution of American nursing.
On the other hand, Handling the sick: the women of St. Luke’s and the nature of nursing, 1892-1937 by Tom Craig Olson and Eileen Walsh appears to provide a more broader picture towards nursing and its evolution by discussing not only the contribution of pioneering figures and revolutionary events in nursing but by also providing an insight into the evolution of the nursing profession in general.