The Beginning of Change

In the 17th century, social reform was inevitable. Several nursing groups were organized. These groups gave money, time, and service to the sick and the poor, visiting them in their homes and ministering to their needs. Such groups included the Order of the Visitation of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, and in 1633, the Sisters of Charity. The last group became an outstanding secular nursing order. They developed an educational program for the intelligent young women they recruited that included experience in a hospital as well as visits to the home. Receiving help, counsel, and encouragement from St. Vincent de Paul, the Sisters of Charity expanded their services to include caring for abandoned children. In 1640, St. Vincent established the Hospital for Foundlings in Paris. Later, in 1809, the Sisters of Charity established a nursing order in the United States, under the direction of Elizabeth Bayley Seton. Other branches of this order were to follow, variously
called the “Gray Sisters,” the “Daughters of Charity,” or the “Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul.” Those countries in Europe that remained Roman Catholic escaped some of the disorganization caused by the Reformation. During the 1500s, the Spanish and the Portuguese began traveling to the Americas. In 1521, Cortés conquered the capital of the Aztec civilization in Mexico and renamed it Mexico City. Early colonists to the area included members of Catholic religious orders, who became the doctors, nurses, and teachers of the new land. In 1524, the first hospital on the American continent, the Hospital of Immaculate Conception (Hospital de Nuestra Senora O Limpia Concepçion), was built in Mexico City. Mission colleges were founded. The first medical school in America was founded in 1578 at the University of Mexico, the second at the University of Lima before 1600. Farther north, Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River in 1535 and established French settlements in Nova Scotia. Franciscan friars, Jesuits, Dominicans, and other settlers and explorers followed. In 1639, three Augustinian nuns arrived in Quebec to staff the Hôtel Dieu at Quebec, a hospital that opened that year. The Ursuline Sisters, an order of teaching nuns who accompanied the Augustinians from France, are credited with attempting to organize
the first training for nurses on this continent. They taught the Indian women of the area to care for their sick during a smallpox epidemic. Jeanne Mance, who had been educated at an Ursuline convent, came to Montreal from France in 1642. She is considered to be the founder of the Hôtel Dieu of Montreal as well as the cofounder of Montreal itself. She returned to France in 1657 to gather financial support and staff, and returned with three French hospital nuns from the Society of St. Joseph de la Fleche to staff the Hôtel Dieu (Donahue, 1996). In Europe, outstanding men of medicine made vital and valuable contributions to medical
knowledge. Among lay persons influencing social change during this time was a young minister in Kaiserwerth, Germany, Theodore Fliedner (1800–1864). With the assistance of his first wife, Friederike, Fliedner revived the deaconess movement by establishing a training institute for deaconesses at Kaiserwerth in 1836. During a fund-raising tour through Holland and England, Pastor Fliedner met Elizabeth Fry of England, who had brought about reform at Newgate Prison in London. Greatly impressed with Mrs. Fry’s accomplishments, the Fliedners followed her example and first worked with women prisoners in Kaiserwerth. Later they opened a small hospital for the sick, and Gertrude Reichardt, the daughter of a physician, was recruited as their first deaconess. The endeavors at Kaiserwerth included care of the sick, visitations and parochial work, and teaching. A course in nursing was developed that included lectures by physicians. Friederike, who played a large part in helping to bring Theodore’s visionary plans to
fruition, was herself deeply dedicated to the deaconess movement. While away from home promoting deaconess activities, she learned that one of her children had died. A second child died shortly after her return and she herself died in 1842 after the birth of a premature infant. His second wife, Caroline Bertheau, who had some nursing experience before her marriage, also assisted Pastor Fliedner in his work. In 1849, Pastor Fliedner traveled to the United States, where he helped to establish the first motherhouse of Kaiserwerth deaconesses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With the help of four deaconesses, the Motherhouse of Kaiserwerth Deaconesses assumed responsibility for the Pittsburgh Infirmary, which was the first Protestant hospital in the United States. The hospital is now called Passavant Hospital. In England, at about the same time, Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845) organized the Institute of Nursing Sisters, a secular group often called the Fry Sisters. Two other groups followed shortly; the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic group formed by Catherine McAuley (1787–1841), and another Catholic group called the Irish Sisters of Charity, formed by Mary Aikenhead (1787–1858).

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