Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Keep the nurse to make it healthy..."

The next installment in the VNA of Boston story from Rebecca...

This week I would like to get back to telling our history --- but I’m struggling with where to begin. One of my goals in writing this blog is to gain an understanding of how the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston & Affiliates (VNABA) became who we are and what it means to be a present day home care organization, so determining exactly where to begin our story is not obvious. To start with the formation of the Instructive District Nursing Association (IDNA ---precursor of the VNABA) in 1886 feels like starting in the middle of the story. Should I start with the Women’s Education Association of Boston, the philanthropic organization which supported the formation of the IDNA? Should I start with the District Nursing organization founded by William Rathbone in England in 1859 upon which the IDNA was modeled? Or do I go all the way back to the first century to the groups of pious women who visited the sick poor in their homes?

As part of my crash course in the history of nursing I have been reading The Evolution of Public Health Nursing (1) written by Annie M. Brainard in 1922. Brainard was the editor of the journal The Public Health Nurse, a lecturer at Western Reserve University and the President of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cleveland in 1913. Her book is frequently cited in publications about visiting nursing and I was convinced to take a closer look because the glimpse I got from the online version at Google Books revealed the most detailed and personal information I had seen about the two women who were behind the creation of the IDNA – Phoebe Adam and Abbie Howes.

The author dedicates ten pages to the history of the IDNA and its founders. These ten pages start on page 203 of a 400 page book --- so by one measure that puts the genesis of our organization at about the halfway mark in the evolution of public health nursing (depending on the source --- also referred to as visiting/district/community nursing). The book provides a detailed account of the various visiting nursing organizations starting in the Roman Empire during the first century and continuing through the Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, Florence Nightingale and into the early 1900s.

I will share the highlights of our pre-history as presented in this book over the next couple of blogs entries. It is written from a Western European/Christian perspective and as such does not consider the precursors to visiting nursing practice that may have existed in other parts of the world and within other cultures and/or religious traditions. However, I think it remains relevant to the cultural and historical roots of English and American organizations such as Rathbone’s District Nurses and the IDNA.

In closing today here is another poem from the fundraising booklet created by the IDNA nurses and Simmons College students in 1920. The last couple of lines give a sense of the optimism felt by the nurses of what was then the relatively new field of public health regarding the contribution the visiting nurse could make to the prosperity of the country by improving the health of its citizens.

Boost the Public Health Movement

Boost your town and boost your friend,
Boost the health centre you attend.
Boost the nurses round about you,
They can get along without you.
But success will quicker find them,
If they know that you’re behind them.
Boost the Public Health movement,
Boost for every new improvement.
Cease to be a chronic knocker,
Cease to be a progress blocker.
If you’d make your city wealthy,
Keep the nurse to make it healthy.

Note (1):
Brainard, Annie M. The Evolution of Public Health Nursing, W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia and London, 1922.

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