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Vol 39  No 15
June 7, 2007


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Memorial archives building collection of nursing history
by Sharon Gray

From left: Jeanette Andrews, Una Cook, Linda White, Rosanne Lake, Prof. Terry Bishop-Stirling and Dorothy Westaway are all keenly interested in the nursing history project at the Archives and Manuscript Division, Queen Elizabeth II Library.
(Photo by Chris Hammond)

Archivist Linda White wants Queen Elizabeth II Library’s Archives and Manuscript Division to be the primary source for documents on the history of nursing in Newfoundland and Labrador. With the recent donation of the records from the Association of Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador (ARNNL) and of the Grace Hospital School of Nursing, that dream is coming closer to fruition.

“If anyone is going to do any research on nursing history in Newfoundland and Labrador we want them to be able to come to MUN and find all the documents in one place,” said Ms. White. “That’s our goal.”

Working with a committee which includes historian Terry Bishop-Stirling, Ms. White has spent the last several years building up the archives’ collection of nursing documents. “We have some of the papers of Mary Southcott, who started the first school of nursing in the province, and we have the papers of Joyce Nevitt, who was the first director of Memorial’s School of Nursing. We also have records from the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association (NONIA). Then came all the papers from the Grace Hospital and now we have the ARNNL documents. All we need now are the records from the General Hospital and St. Clare’s Schools of Nursing.”

Ms. Bishop-Stirling teaches a course on the history of women in Newfoundland and Labrador and she often has students, some of them nurses, who choose to do their research papers on nursing history. “From the beginning nursing was a woman’s job and it is so tied up with the image of a woman’s role. It’s women’s history, labour history, education history and general medical and health care history.”

Jeanette Andrews, past president of ARNNL, is glad to see the association’s archives housed properly. “They were stored in the basement of a 150-year old downtown house, and there’s a constant worry of fire in that area. Plus water gets into the basement and about a year ago we had a pipe break and water poured into the area where the archives were. No harm was done but that just brought home to me how vulnerable our records were.”

Ms. Andrews said ARNNL also wanted their records housed at the university because it guarantees proper access.

“We didn’t even know what was in our basement sometimes and we had no rules and regulations about privacy. If someone wanted to use our archives we had to take someone from our staff to ‘babysit’ the papers and make sure nothing went out the door.”

Ms. Bishop-Stirling said that having all nursing archives housed at Memorial’s library provides physical protection and allows supervised access.

“Some of the people who’ve been taking care of these documents are a little concerned about throwing it wide open. To me that’s just another reason to have a professional archive with rules about access. At Memorial, whether it’s a student or professor doing research, there are ethics reviews on projects and there’s a vetting process on how the material will be used.”

The Grace Hospital Nursing Alumni are also glad to have their archives housed at Memorial. Retired Grace nurses Una Cook, Rosanne Lake and Dorothy Westaway are working on a history of the Grace Hospital and they can frequently be found in the archives of the QE II library conducting research.

“We thought we would come for some direction to see how to go about writing our history,” said Ms. Lake. “We’ve hired a writer and we already have sections done for the period from 1922 through to the end of the 1950s. It gives us a really good focus and shows where we need to fill in the gaps.”

Ms. Cook pointed out that even the opening date of the Grace Hospital required some research. “Everything we read had the date as Dec. 23, 1922, but when we looked up that date in the newspapers from the day there was nothing there. It turns out it was Sept. 23, not December. Some source got it wrong and it just got repeated.”

The three Grace nurses hope to flesh out their history with stories and vignettes from the community. Ms. Bishop said these type of reminiscences can bring alive the fact that often nurses were community leaders who were not necessarily visible in historical records but who played a role beyond their medical responsibilities.

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