Posted on May 6th, 2015 by Rachel
Today is National Nurses Day and in appreciation we are sharing a “sneak peek” from our exhibit-in-progress Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America from our section on nursing. Enjoy these snippets from the unfinished exhibit script – and thank a nurse today!
Gift of Bobbi Horwitz for the Sinai Hospital Nurses Alumni Association, JMM 2010.20.8
The Nursing Station
The first formal training program for nurses in the United States was initiated in 1872 at the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Spurred by committees of laywomen, several other hospitals soon followed suit. Physicians, however, were slow to support the training of women to assist in medical procedures.
As medical technology advanced, however, hospital administrators realized how the in-house nurse training program benefited the hospital. Educated nurses were urgently needed to aid in the care and treatment of patients with increasingly more complex conditions and needs. Nursing students, who often worked and lived under harsh conditions, were willing to trade their labor for professional training. By 1900, 432 nurse-training programs had been established in hospitals around the country.
1909 photo of graduating class. Gift of Bobbie Horwitz for the Sinai Hospital Nurses Alumni Association, JMM 2010.20.47.
By 1919, the Hebrew Hospital had built the Hecht Memorial Nurses Home, where nurses lived and studied. Trainees were required to furnish their own uniforms and expected to work regular shifts in the hospital, described in the school prospectus as the students’ “laboratory.” In return, they were given room and board, and were paid $10.00 per month (equivalent to approximately $135.00 today). A rigorous schedule of coursework in medical sciences and clinical practice are also set forth in the brochure.
Nursing and the Jewish Woman
Jewish women did not flock to nursing as Jewish men did to the medical, dental and pharmacy professions. There are no solid numbers to bear out the anecdotal evidence, but where Jewish physicians have been over-represented as a proportion of the United States population, Jews have historically been under-represented as a percentage of nurses. As a result, while Jewish hospitals filled a need for Jewish nurses, but they were never staffed solely by Jews.
“An Angel of Mercy,” Hal Hurst. C. 1914-1918, Michael Zwerdling “Postcards of nursing” collection, National Library of Medicine.
Why were there fewer Jewish nurses, proportionally? The Christian narrative underpinning the nursing profession may have discouraged some. According to the National Library of Medicine: “Images of nurses in the European art traditions of the 19th and early 20th centuries are often based on ancient Classical and Christian feminine archetypes such as healer, handmaiden, mother, angel, and guardian or warrior.” But many among those who proudly serve see Jewish roots to their profession.
“I cannot count the number of times I have been told that I am a fine example of Christian nursing. It is always meant as a compliment, but it drives me to distraction.” (From an interview with a Jewish nurse)
Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Rachel
During my Exhibitions Research Internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on the Sinai Hospital Nurses Training Program for the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition. This research has included reading several oral history interviews from nurses who trained at Sinai Hospital (the program ended in 1975). These interviews have not only given me new insights into the hospital and its program, but also have allowed me to learn some of each woman’s personality.
A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
Oral histories collect and record personal memories and commentaries, and are one of the most important sources of information available to historians. An oral history allows one to learn about the lives of people that are not ordinarily covered in history textbooks. The information gathered in an oral history can be used for research, excerpted in publication, filmed for documentary, or displayed in museum exhibition.
The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories. Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.
Information we have gathered through the nurses’ oral histories will better allow us to place exhibition objects into context and craft a narrative for their display. As Curator Karen Falk wrote in her “JMM Insights, July 2014: Where Culture Meets Science” blog post, Bobbie Horwitz’s interview gave context for the elaborate silver tea gifted to JMM by the Sinai Nursing Alumnae Association. Horwitz explained, “They wanted to make ladies of us.” One of the ways they did so was through a civilized “tea” held every Friday.
Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
Another interesting story I came across was from former Sinai nurse Senator Rosalie S. Abrams. Abrams recounted how she learned Yiddish while working in the men’s ward. “I was a head nurse for the men’s ward,” she said. “That’s where I learned my Yiddish—on the men’s ward. We used to sing them Jewish songs.” Such stories illustrate the intersection of Jewish culture and medicine in the space of the hospital.
Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.
After reading so many interesting stories I was excited to receive training, with my fellow interns, from Curator Karen Falk on how to conduct an oral history. We went over how to use the museum’s recording equipment and preparing the proper documentation for the interview. It is crucial to be prepared for the interview. One of the most important things to consider is what you want to learn. You should know your topic and what information you hope to gain. Prepare a list of questions that get at the heart of what you want to know and familiarize yourself with them. Your rapport will be easily interrupted if you keep pausing to look down at your questions. Keep in mind that you should also be flexible with your questions. Your interviewee may bring up interesting points you never considered, but would like to explore.
Prior to conducting your oral history make sure all your recording equipment works. Familiarize yourself with it and practice. You do not want to waste your interviewee’s time trying to set up equipment that you do not know how to use or that does not work.
Some of JMM’s oral history recording equipment, including a digital recorder and microphone.
Upcoming research for the Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition will include conducting more oral history interviews with Jewish medical professionals. I hope that some of the great accounts from the Sinai nurses’ oral histories will be incorporated into the exhibit.
A blog post by Exhibitions Research Intern Sarah Moore. To read more posts by interns click HERE.
Posted on January 14th, 2014 by Rachel
Did you miss us? Our apologies for being so quiet over the last month! But no worries, we’ve got plenty of photo identifications coming up on future Tuesdays!
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: July 19, 2013
PastPerfect Accession #: 2010.020.178
Status: Mostly Identified – a fine flock of Sinai Nurses! 1. Pat DeHaven Cimino 2. Toby Kurland Mower 3. Phyllis Silberman 4. unidentified 5. Ann Yerman 6. Sara Jane Brown 7. Linda Ridenour
Special Thanks To: Barbara Sachs and Toby Mower