Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Producing Nurses: Nursing Training in the Age of Rationalisation at Kingston General Hospital, 1924-1939

Document type Thesis
Author Wishart, James Michael
Degree M.A., History
Publisher Queen's University; Kingston, Ont.
Date 1997
Pages 147


In 1924, the General Hospital at Kingston, Ontario, began a process of rationalisation, following Taylorist principles of scientific management. In concurrence with the restructuring of other N orth American hospitals, and with the advice given in professional literature, the Governors of K.G.H. secured the services of R.F. Armstrong, a civil engineer. His mandate was to facilitate the transformation of K.G.H. into an efficient, economical modem health institution which would attract not just indigent patients, but also upper-class, paying clients. Part I of this paper analyses the process by wrhich rationalisation was wreaked upon student nurses in the K.G.H. Nurse Training School, considering these women not primarily as students but as an unpaid labour force. I argue that administrators employed a combination of paternalism and scientific management in an attempt to conform student-wrorkers into an 'ideal nurse labourer', as defined by historically specific discourses of gender, class, and Canadian nation/race which converged in the image of the Nurse. Balancing this 'top-down' approach, Part II of the paper attempts to reconstruct student-workers' experiences of and responses to nursing training. Using nurses' cultural productions and oral interview's, I explore the concept of 'everyday resistance' in the contexts of the Nurses' Home and the hospital workshop, arguing that the continual supervision and surveillance endured by student-workers did not preclude successful attempts to wrrite their own script for their experience of nursing. To the contrary, nurses-in-training developed a culture of mutuality which provided them with the resources to resist and ameliorate the most repressive and totalising aspects of hospital labour and residence life. The result of this reconsideration of nursing training is an increased understanding of student nurse labourers as individuals with hopes and expectations of their own, rather than simply dutiful, obedient daughters in the hospital 'family' who accepted their subordination to the 'ethic of service'.