This week’s reading material dealing with Canadian nurses finding their place in society and defining the acceptable standards of behaviour nurses should adhere to was especially interesting to me because it related to my research project in the course “Health and Gender in History”. My research there focused, among other things, on medical personnel in the First World War and in this context, I also explored the relationship between female nurses and male patients. What is striking is the notion that nurses were introduced “as a ‘sister’and/or ‘mother”.[1] This served the purposes of making “the man the head of the home”[2] and therefore clearly establishing gender roles that reinforced men’s masculinity. At the same time, which is where McPherson’s paper ties in perfectly, this emphasised that the “partnership was supposed to be asexual”[3] (hence the emphasis on not equating them to wives, but to direct relatives).

Furthermore, while nurses were attempting to find their way as “respectable working women”,[4] it is absolutely clear that they were seen as standing below doctors, who did not only outrank them in terms of medical education but also in terms of gender, seeing as they were male. There was therefore no doubt whatsoever in that men had the higher “degree of economic independence [and continued] to play the role of the breadwinner”.[5]

The power relationship was also apparent in the way the nurses behaviour was monitored and in the behaviour that was asked of them that was defined by “an of exaggerated vision of Victorian social deference, sexual passivity, disinterest, or ignorance and ladylike gentility”,[6] something that, however, eventually posed several difficulties for the nursing leaders and was questioned with the “celebration of bedside flirting”[7],which also meant that nurses had to “walk a fine line” in order to find a balance between the gentility wished for from ladies and therefore the refraining from criticising attempts of flirting to harshly, while staying true to the conventional idea of sexual disinterest taught in school.




[1] Jeffrey S. Reznick, Healing the Nation: Soldiers and the Culture of Caregiving in Britain During the Great War, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2004: 23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kathryn M. McPherson, “‘The Case of the Kissing Nurse’: Femininity, Sexuality, and Canadian Nursing, 1900

-1970,”in McPherson, Morgan & Forestell (Eds.), Gendered Pasts: Historical Essays in Femininity and Masculinity in Canada, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 199:165.

[4] Ibid., 164.

[5] Healing the Nation, 24-25.

[6] ”The Case of the Kissing Nurse,“ 166.

[7] Ibid., 174.