1. Grypma, Sonya

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We are beginning to feel an increasing necessity for some definite moral force or laws that shall bind us more closely together in this work of nursing. - -Isabel Hampton Robb, 1900 (cited in Poslusny, 1989)

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As I write from my university near Vancouver I am surrounded by the excited voices of Canadians revelling in the 2010 Olympic gold won by Canada's hockey team. Within 15 minutes of the momentous win over the United States, our family received three amused e-mails from friends in the States and Europe-all nurses with whom I've worked on global projects. I had been reflecting on the power of international friendships in nursing; receiving the emails was an apt reminder of its relevance. There is an odd parallel between nursing and Olympic hockey: Canadian, American, Slovakian, and Russian competitors who faced off during the Olympics will reunite as teammates. Let me explain.


Professional nursing is historically international in nature. Florence Nightingale, whose nursing model from England was exported around the world, first apprenticed in Germany in 1851. Linda Richards, one of the earliest professionally trained nurses in the United States, established the first nurse training program in Japan in 1885 (Doona, 1996). Elizabeth McKechnie, an 1883 graduate of the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia, became the first in a long line of missionary nurses to help establish nursing schools in China (Chen, 1996). Ethel Johns, a 1902 graduate of the Winnipeg General Hospital, was commissioned in 1925 by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York to help establish nursing schools in postwar Europe (Street, 1976). Nurses have been crossing national boundaries for a long time; our current global sensitivity has deep roots. So have our international friendships.


Consider the friendships of five nurses who either taught or studied at Columbia Teachers College University in New York. Isabel Hampton Robb, Lavinia Lloyd Dock, and Mary Adelaide Nutting are considered the "architects of professional nursing education and the founders of the major professional organizations in nursing" (Poslusny, 1989, p. 64). Robb headed the new Johns Hopkins School (JHS) in 1889 and was instrumental in establishing the program at Teachers College in 1899. Dock was one of the first public health nurses, and she and Nutting coauthored A History of Nursing (Nutting & Dock, 1907). Nutting succeeded Robb as Superintendent of JHS and helped found with her the American Journal of Nursing in 1900. Nutting also became the first nurse to be appointed to a university professorship at Teachers College.


The friendship between these three women created a political context for social change: In 1893 they founded the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools of the United States and Canada, which became the American Nurses Association. They inspired others, including Isabel Maitland Stewart, 1908 graduate of and later professor at Teachers College, and Ethel Johns who, after attending Teachers College, became the first nurse appointed to a university professorship in Canada.


The impact of these five women on professional nursing is remarkable and well-documented. Less recognized is that four of these leaders crossed international borders: Robb and Stewart were born in Ontario and Nutting in Quebec. Johns was born in England and reared on an Ojibwa reserve in Ontario. Their friendship and mutual support inspired a vision of nursing with social justice at its core, and laid a foundation for modern nursing. Contemporary Christian nurses can learn from this.


Consider what the future of nursing would look like if Christian nurses perceived our shared faith as a "moral force" that can "bind us more closely together in this work of nursing." Drawing on existing international friendships-and deliberately developing new ones-can help us illuminate and address some of the critical issues in nursing today. We are, after all, on the same team.


Chen, K. (1996). Missionaries and the early development of nursing in China. Nursing History Review, 4, 129-49 [Context Link]


Doona, M. E. (1996). Linda Richards and nursing in Japan, 1885-1890. Nursing History Review, 4, 99-128. [Context Link]


Nutting, M. A., & Dock, L. L. (1907). A history of nursing. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons) [Context Link]


Poslusny, S. (1989). Feminist friendship: Isabel Hampton Robb, Lavinia Lloyd Dock and Mary Adelaide Nutting. Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 21 (2), 64-68. [Context Link]


Street, M. (1976). Watchfires on the mountains: The life and writings of Ethel Johns. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [Context Link]