Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. James Crooks

Second Advisor

Dr. Fred Blakey

Third Advisor

Dr. Gina Giovinco


This study examines the development of nursing as a vocation, in the early twentieth century, within the context of a growing southern city and an evolving health care system. Nursing advanced from a domestic service to a recognized vocation during this era. An extensive survey of historical and nursing literature revealed few studies which focus on nursing and health care in an urban context. Those studies identified gave only brief glimpses of nurses and focus on northern cities. This investigation aims to add a southern chapter to the history of nursing and health care in urban settings.

A community systems approach to analyzing changes in the city provides the context for evaluating nursing development, while health care became more accessible and professional. Historical approaches used to support the thesis include analysis of social history, public health, morbidity and mortality statistics, and quantitative collective biography. These methods yield data which depict what it meant to practice nursing during the study period.

Much of the actual information about the nurses and their practice had to come from indirect sources in order to draw conclusions from the research. Primary sources used in this research include newspapers, city directories, census reports, probate records, city health reports, student nurse and hospital records, oral histories and medical records. Secondary sources include southern, women's, urban, city, institutional, medical and public health histories. In addition, nationally oriented nursing histories and theses proved useful in the analysis of primary data.

The findings of the study demonstrate marked transitions in the maturation of nursing and health care in the city. These changes happened at a different pace when compared to similar events in northern urban areas. Many variables contributed to the differences noted, including the cultural expectations of women and race relations in community life. Nurses functioned in the beginning of the study as occasional domestic servants who were primarily black women. They practiced in a city with limited public health services, one hospital for whites and a pest house for blacks. By 1930, nurses practiced in a city with improved public health services, four hospitals with nurses' training schools, including one for blacks. Nurses enjoyed a professional association and the protection of a state practice act. These women progressed from shadowy figures seldom seen in public, to a group of workers recognized as an asset to the health of the community. PALMM