States and the Politics of Nursing During the 1960s-1970s 

By Dominique Tobbell, PhD 

April 29, 2021 at 12 p.m. via Zoom 

Zoom link: https://virginia.zoom.us/j/96849325974?pwd=MGRZYVUvSTlsdy9GWUNIbDVGVVZjZz09&from=addon
Meeting ID: 968 4932 5974
Passcode: 823533

In the decades after World War II, the increasing complexity of patient care created the need for better educated nurses. In response, nurse leaders grappled with how to raise the educational level of nurses without undermining vital pathways into nursing and exacerbating nursing shortages. Since the 1960s, efforts to raise the educational level for entry-into-professional nursing have provoked vocal concern–and activism–among diploma- and associate degree-trained nurses under pressure to upgrade their educational credentials but confronting significant financial, institutional, and social barriers to achieving so-called educational mobility.

This presentation explores the ways in which their activism in the 1970s garnered substantial support from state legislatures across the country, which were concerned with both ongoing nursing shortages and the need to expand educational access for women and people of color. As a result, state legislatures put pressure on their state-funded nursing schools to resolve these issues of educational mobility. The intersections of nursing activism and state policymaking were thus integral to the implementation of career ladders and articulated educational pathways into nursing in the 1970s. 

Dominique Tobbell, PhD, is the Centennial Distinguished Professor of Nursing at UVA and Director of the Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry. Her scholarship focuses on the complex political, economic, and social relationships that developed after World War II between universities, governments, and the health-care industry and that continue to impact modern-day systems. Dr. Tobbell is the author of Pills, Power, and Policy: The Struggle for Drug Reform in Cold War America and its Consequences (University of California Press, 2012), and Health Informatics at Minnesota: The First Fifty Years (Tasora Books, 2015). Her forthcoming book is Dr. Nurse: Science, Politics, and the Transformation of American Nursing (University of Chicago Press).

Dr. Tobbell earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Manchester, England, and both a Master of Art and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Image: The UVA School of Nursing's last diploma class on graduation day in 1968 (CNHI)


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