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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

Public Health Nurses

Although World War I led to a marked increase in the number of women involved in public health nursing, many women had entered the field years earlier as part of settlement house work and other Progressive reform initiatives.

Gordon Grant. The Public Health Nurse. She answers humanity's call. Between 1914 and 1918. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Nurse, author, and public health activist Lavinia L. Dock (1858-1956) collected writings on various aspects of nursing as well as other papers (350 items; 1908-49; bulk 1935-38) relating to her involvement with the International Council of Nurses, the American Association of the Red Cross, and the Henry Street Settlement in New York City.

The papers (3,000 items; 1891-1969; bulk 1910-69) of nurse Florence Deakins Becker (1878-1969) relate principally to her crusade against tuberculosis and cancer.

Documents concerning the Visiting Nurses Association are among the papers of Helen Newell Garfield (1866-1930) included in the James Rudolph Garfield Papers (70,000 items; 1879-1950; bulk 1890-1932).

After serving as a nurse in France during World War I, Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965), went to England to study midwifery and then returned to the United States to found the Kentucky Committee for Mothers and Babies in 1925, which became known three years later as the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS), a social welfare project aimed at providing medical care to families living in inaccessible mountain communities. Documents regarding the FNS may be found in the Mary Breckinridge files in the Breckinridge Family Papers.

As a young woman, photojournalist Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (b. 1905) served as a guide and courier for doctors associated with her cousin's Frontier Nursing Service. She later made a film about the project now held in the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Patterson's papers (1 volume; 1939-40) consist of radio transcripts documenting her years as a correspondent during World War II, and her papers in the Manuscript Division (90,000 items; 1846-2003; bulk 1921-2000) cover her FNS work, her career as a photojournalist, and her philanthropic activities as a community activist and diplomat's wife. Throughout her life, Patterson financially supported the work of the FNS, serving at times as national honorary chairman and active member of the Frontier Nursing Service, Washington Committee, a fund-raising group whose records (350 items; 1976-1994) are also held in the Manuscript Division.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.