Qualifications for Nurses on Blackwell’s Island

Blackwell's Island
I write and talk a lot about the fact that convicts from the Workhouse were used as nurses and attendants over at the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (with predictably bad results).

But in 1875, a Training School for Nurses was launched on the island. The idea of professional, educated nurses was still a very novel development, although nursing schools had already been in operation since 1873 at Bellevue and other hospitals in New England. The two year program at Blackwell’s was open to women between twenty and thirty-five years old, who could present certificates affirming their moral character and health.

Apparently looks were as important as moral character and health (intelligence was not mentioned). From the 1875 Department of Public Charities and Correction Annual Report:

“The sensitiveness of many patients requires that nurses should have nothing disagreeable or repulsive in their outward appearance. (Any facial skin disease or defect is a sufficient cause for disqualification.) A hoarse or screechy voice, offensive breath and perspiration, may also cause much annoyance to patients.”

The entrance to the hospital, taken later, in the 20th century.

Blackwell's Island

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

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