Say Little, Do Much

Say Little, Do Much: Nursing, Nuns, and Hospitals in the Nineteenth Century

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 240
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    Say Little, Do Much
    Book Description:

    In the nineteenth century, more than a third of American hospitals were established and run by women with religious vocations. In Say Little, Do Much, Sioban Nelson casts light on the work of these women's religious communities. According to Nelson, the popular view that nursing invented itself in the second half of the nineteenth century is historically inaccurate and dismissive of the major advances in the care of the sick as a serious and skilled activity, an activity that originated in seventeenth-century France with Vincent de Paul's Daughters of Charity. In this comparative, contextual, and critical work, Nelson demonstrates how modern nursing developed from the complex interplay of the Catholic emancipation in Britain and Ireland, the resurgence of the Irish Church, the Irish diaspora, and the mass migrations of the German, Italian, and Polish Catholic communities to the previously Protestant strongholds of North America and mainland Britain. In particular, Nelson follows the nursing Daughters of Charity through the French Revolution and the Second Empire, documenting the relationship that developed between the French nursing orders and the Irish Catholic Church during this period. This relationship, she argues, was to have major significance for the development of nursing in the English-speaking world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0290-8
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Chapter 1 “Say Little, Do Much”: Veils of Invisiblity — Nursing Nuns
    (pp. 1-10)

    Some years ago at a North American nursing conference I delivered a paper on religious nurses and their impact on the nursing profession and the health care system. When I had finished, a woman stood to make a statement. She told the conference that she was of Boston Irish Catholic stock. She had worked as both a bedside nurse and a senior administrator at a number of Catholic hospitals owned and managed by sisters. Yet when she undertook her MBA and focused her major paper on women in senior health care management, she had found none. The literature told her...

  4. Chapter 2 Martha’s Turn: Vowed Women and Virtuous Work
    (pp. 11-31)

    The spiritual paths open to women over the centuries of Christian practice were shaped by the popular New Testament story of the sisters Martha and Mary. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and washed his feet in expensive oils. Martha fussed, providing food for the apostles and followers, and criticized Mary’s selfishness. She spoke out irritably to Jesus, asking for Mary’s help. But Jesus praised Mary’s singular; unworldly devotion, and criticized Martha’s mundane and temporal preoccupations. From this story two paths for women were delineated. Mary’s path was the prestigious path of prayer and withdrawal from the world and...

  5. Chapter 3 Free Enterprise and Resourcefulness: An American Success Story — The Daughters of Charity in the Northeast
    (pp. 32-55)

    In the second half of the nineteenth century Catholic hospitals, owned and conducted by communities of vowed Catholic women, were playing a major role in hospital foundation in the United States. In fact, Catholic sisters founded a total of 299 hospitals between 1829 and 1900.² The Protestant pride and rampant anti-Catholicism of the period could lead one to assume that the United States was the country least likely to support the work of Catholic women through taxes levied on the hardworking Protestant majority. One would be wrong. In fact, unlike Britain, where Protestant dominance was never breached by a Catholic...

  6. Chapter 4 Behind Enemy Lines: Religious Nursing in England — Conflicts and Solutions
    (pp. 56-79)

    Like their sisters in Ireland, France, Germany, and the United States, pious nineteenth-century English women felt the call to serve God through work with His needy. The most famous nurse of all time, Miss Florence Nightingale, was one such woman. Nightingale’s call to serve God occurred in 1837, when she was just seventeen.¹ The extraordinary impact of Florence Nightingale on the development of nursing training during the second half of the nineteenth century has effectively overshadowed earlier events.² To understand how nursing in England became synonymous with Nightingale’s own project and how it eclipsed all other narratives in the history...

  7. Chapter 5 At the Margins of the Empire: Religious Wars in the Hospital Wards of Colonial Sydney
    (pp. 80-99)

    Despite its position at the very margins of the British Empire, colonial New South Wales played its part in the Nightingale movement for the reform of nursing.¹ As patriotic members of the British Empire, colonials contributed generously to the Nightingale Fund set up during the Crimean War by an enthusiastic British public. Miss Nightingale honored this contribution in 1868 by providing a team of women to bring her distinctive style of trained nurse to Australia. However, long before the Nightingale sisters disembarked at Sydney Cove, a group of French-trained Irish nursing sisters had been busy caring for the people of...

  8. Chapter 6 Frontier: “The Means to Begin Are None”
    (pp. 100-125)

    Despite the vast number of immigrants crowding into the industrial north of the United States, changing forever the ethnic composition of the country, the Catholic sisterhoods did not restrict their efforts to the needy poor of the cities. Part of the extraordinary force that nineteenth-century America exerted upon the European imagination was the pull of the frontier. There were other frontiers, such as the wild penal settlements of what was to become Australia or Britain’s dominions of India and the Far East, where Protestant and Catholic missionary women nursed and taught to extend the borders of the Christian world. South...

  9. Chapter 7 Crossing the Confessional Divide: German Catholic and Protestant Nurses
    (pp. 126-150)

    Immigration is a tale of the movement not only of peoples, but of social practices. Religious nursing could be understood as one such social practice, one that many German peoples sought to reestablish in the New World. The German experience brings together a number of critical themes to this study of nursing work by pious women in the nineteenth-century Protestant English-speaking world. First, there is the revival of Catholicism in Catholic regions of Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Central to the German experience was the establishment of Daughter of Charity motherhouses, and the proliferation of new communities of vowed women...

  10. Chapter 8 The Twentieth Century: “Every Day Life Got Smaller”
    (pp. 151-164)

    When Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the American Sisters of Charity, struggled with her call from God during the first decade of the nineteenth century, she could scarcely have dreamed that by the century’s end Catholic women would have built the largest health care network in the country. By 1917 their hospitals accounted for half the American health care system.¹ But a century after Seton, Catholic sisters were not the only women to perform nursing work with dignity and diligence. The stage was by then crowded with Protestant religious nurses — the Anglican nuns and the Lutheran and Methodist deaconesses,...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 165-166)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 167-212)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-226)
  14. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 235-237)