Sinai Hospital Nurses
A blog post by summer intern Elaine Hall. Elaine is working in our exhibitions department with curator Karen Falk.
This summer I am lucky enough to be an intern doing research for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I specifically applied to this position because of my interest in the topic of an upcoming exhibit on Jewish Health and Healing. Due to my background in both anthropology and biology as well as my future in public health, this topic seemed like a perfect way to put my education to use and gain some interesting experience relating to health.
The exhibit is in its very beginning stages, which gives me an interesting opportunity to be involved in the design of the overall concepts to be included. However before I can really dive into planning and brainstorming it is important that I become familiar with the topic. I am attempting to get to know this subject by looking through the related collections at the museum, articles that have been gathered on the subject as well as on Jewish doctors, and interviews that the museum and others have conducted. I especially enjoy reading through the interviews of prominent Jewish doctors, nurses, and community members that have been collected. Listening to individuals tell their personal stories always ends up being both emotional and educational, in the best ways.
The women of the Sinai Hospital nursing school from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s were facing discrimination and limitation of opportunities because they were Jewish AND because they were women. They describe going into nursing as a natural choice, since there were not many other options as far as higher education and good career opportunities were concerned and because they were drawn towards service.
Tobi Mower, a former Sinai Hospital nurse gave her stories of Nursing School in an interview conducted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Tobi Mower graduated from Sinai Hospital Nursing School in 1963 and is a fascinating and passionate woman. She is well known for her pursuance of women’s rights and her rule-breaking attitude. The Sinai Hospital was created in the mid 1800’s to provide a place where Jewish patients could eat Kosher food, be a part of holiday rituals, and be given appropriate care. However it also served as a place for Jewish nurses and doctors to do their internships and residencies in a time when they were blocked from many opportunities.
“It was more or less like sink or swim, and if you didn’t swim, you sunk, and you were kicked out.” Tobi Mower
“I was picked out as a troublemaker early from my training… Because I was an older girl and I thought some of the rules were really, really stupid” Tobi Mower
“If you had a wrinkle in your uniform, you found out about it from Molly, or if you had a scuff mark on your white shoes, you found out about it from Molly, or if your starched nursing cap was disheveled, you found out… she scared everybody, except me…She was screaming at the top of her voice. And I just looked at her, and I said to her, ‘Ms. Roseman, are you finished?’ And she said ‘yes,’ in a very harsh voice. I said ‘fine,’ and as nice- as polite as I could be, but as forceful as I could be, I said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again. I don’t allow my mother to yell at me like that anymore, and I will not allow you to do that to me anymore.’ And she just looked at me like I slapped her in the face, but I never had another problem with Molly after that. She loved me, and I think that’s the way when we stood up for ourselves, those of us that felt comfortable with it, we were treated with more respect.” Tobi Mower
“And I remember one doctor asked me for scissors, and I gave him a scissor, and he threw it across the room. And I started crying- well, I wasn’t about to let him see my tears. And he said ‘Young lady, didn’t anybody ever teach you that when we do a breast, we use a [curved or straight] instead of what you gave me?’… And I said ‘no sir, I’m here to learn and be taught.’… While we were waiting for the results of the biopsy, I walked away from the table and broke scrub… ‘I’m not going to have that man [meaning the surgeon] abuse me anymore.’ … And never had a student broken scrub on a private doctor … That doctor did come over to me and apologized, and asked me if I’d rescrub. Yeah. Once again I stood up for myself.” Tobi Mower
“And then there was- you know, there was a lot of sexual harassment in those years… But in those years it wasn’t considered sexual harassment. In fact, I reminded this guy, who’s now an old man, that if he had done the same thing 20 years later, he would’ve had his rear end hauled to court a lot of times.” Tobi Mower
- Kellman, Naomi. “The Origins of Health Care for the Hebrew Poor.” Generations (Spring 1988): 13.
- Mower, Tobi and Morton. Interview By Barry Lever. Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, 2001.
- Umansky, Paul I. “The Story of Sinai Hospital, 1866 to 1959.” Generations (Fall 1998): 12-16.