Nursing for the Grenfell Mission : maternalism and moral reform in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador, 1894-1938

Perry, Jill Samfya (1997) Nursing for the Grenfell Mission : maternalism and moral reform in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador, 1894-1938. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

From 1894 onwards, the Grenfell Mission was a powerful, foreign influence in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. In spite of its vast army of volunteers and staff members, historians have been overwhelmingly concerned with the activities of Wilfred Grenfell, the Mission's founder. But in the Mission behind the man, it was women who did the majority of the day-to-day work. Within this female workforce, nurses were a key component. Nurses were central to the Mission's operations on two levels. First, they performed a wide range of duties, both medical and non-medical, which kept the Mission running smoothly. Second they were strategically central to the Mission's objectives of improving the local people. In accordance with maternalist rationales of the early twentieth century, the official Grenfell discourse deemed nurses ideally suited to moral reform work because it was felt that essential female virtues like sympathy, selflessness, and domesticity had been moulded into a model of bourgeois femininity by their professional training. As the female embodiment of a superior culture, nurses were supposed to reform the local people according to the Mission's Anglo-Saxon, middle-class vision of how life should be. -- When the maternalist rationale for nurses' importance is measured against an examination of the daily realities of Grenfell nursing, a tripartite gap emerges between discourse and real life. First, the conservative gender ideology obscured the fact that Grenfell nursing was, fundamentally, an exceptional female work experience. In shouldering a wide range of duties at isolated Mission stations, Grenfell nurses enjoyed high levels of independence, authority, and adventure. Second, by portraying nurses as smiling angels-of-mercy, the official discourse denied both the unpleasant realities of that experience, as well as individual deviation from the ideal. Grenfell nursing was, first and foremost, hard work; female independence was ultimately circumscribed by a male-dominated Mission hierarchy; and Grenfell nurses were not always respectful of Mission policies nor doctors. Third, by portraying nurses as timely heroines, the official discourse shrouded the less admirable aspects of their work. In keeping with their own cultural influences, nurses' reform efforts were often marred by a distinct lack of respect for the local people and their way of life. Rooted in middle-class assumptions about "proper" lifestyle, nurses' reform initiatives were often elitist and, through their focus on local women, highly gendered. A full examination of Grenfell nursing must balance the admirable quality of nurses' work against the problematic aspects of that opportunity.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/1022
Item ID: 1022
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 182-188.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: 1997
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador; Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Great Northern Peninsula
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Grenfell Labrador Medical Mission; Missions, Medical--Social aspects--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador; Missions, Medical--Social aspects--Newfoundland and Labrador--Great Northern Peninsula; Nursing--Social aspects--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador; Nursing--Social aspects--Newfoundland and Labrador--Great Norern Peninsula; Social reformers--Newfoundland and Labrador--Labrador--History; Social reformers--Newfoundland and Labrador

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