Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More of the VNA of Boston story...

Here's the next installment of the story... from Rebecca:

In 1859, Liverpool was a well established port city pulsing with commerce and industry. The population exploded in the 200 years between 1700 and 1900 as immigrants and waves of workers from the countryside flocked to the city, drawn by the demand for labor created by the industrial revolution and trade of all sorts. Our interest is in the Rathbone family of Liverpool, a family of prominent businessmen and philanthropists, and in particular in William Rathbone VI who established the first modern District Nursing organization in 1859, upon which our agency was modeled after in 1886.

The original William Rathbone brought his family to Liverpool in the early 1700s to pursue opportunities for his family in this growing port city. Initially, he worked in a saw mill and in 1742, at the age of 46, he established his own timber business, Rathbone Brothers. Subsequent William Rathbones (there are 13 generations now) built on this foundation and grew the family business, expanding into the cotton trade, shipping, ship building and eventually merchant banking.

From the beginning, the Rathbone family had a high sense of social consciousness and each generation engaged in significant public service and philanthropy. The early Rathbones were Quakers and Nonconformists, meaning they rejected the governance of the Church of England and were advocates for religious freedom. They consistently opposed the slave trade, which was a major part of business in Liverpool. At its peak in 1799, 40% of the worlds’, and 80% of Britain’s slave trade passed through Liverpool’s ports.

William Rathbone V and his wife Elizabeth, the parents of the our William Rathbone, expanded on this work and were large supports of Kitty Wilkerson’s efforts to provide people with a place to wash their clothes and bedding during the cholera outbreak of 1832. (the result of which was the establishment of the first public baths and wash-houses in Liverpool) The famous American prison and mental health reformer Dorethea Dix spent a formative year living with the William Rathbone V and his wife in the late 1830s. While there, she met a group of men and women who advocated for government involvement in social welfare and learned about the British lunacy reform movement, whose methods of detailed investigation of madhouses and asylums she applied to her work on reform for the care of the insane poor upon her return to Massachusetts in 1840. At their deaths, obituaries said of William and Elizabeth Rathbone: "His name was a 'household word', synonymous with truth and honour and charity” and "Her life was one of constant, careful, conscientious helpfulness, on a scale that can have no record".

William Rathbone VI, the founder of modern District Nursing in Liverpool, was born in 1819 and was a partner in the family business, Rathbone Brothers and Co, from 1842 to 1885. Throughout his youth he was surrounded by the reform and philanthropy work undertaken and supported by his parents. Later in life he wrote that he regarded wealth and business success chiefly as a means to the achievement of public and philanthropic work and he wrote that after meeting the reasonable living expenses of himself and his family, a man’s wealth should be considered "a trust for which he owes an account to himself, to his fellow-men, and to God; it is not an absolute freehold which he may use solely for personal enjoyment and indulgence."

Next week, I will delve deeper into William Rathbone VI’s achievements and the Liverpool District Nursing organization, arguably his most far reaching effort that has had long term influence on nursing in England and the United States.

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