Bates Center Seminar March 15, 2023


Nursing’s Deep Roots: The Art and Science of Healing in Early Philadelphia
Speaker: Susan Brandt, PhD, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Date + Time: Wednesday, March 15, 2023, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, EDT
Location: Virtual BlueJeans event

Abstract: The history of professional nursing often starts in the late 1860s with the training program for nurses at the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia. However, the narrative of women as healers and nurses has much deeper roots. The nursing programs initiated in the 1860s and 1870s continued the legacies of women healers who had played a central role in health care for centuries. It was no accident that the first charity hospital and the first women’s medical and nursing schools were founded in Philadelphia. Rather, it was the result of unique circumstances that supported a robust culture of women’s public health care work in the region for almost two hundred years. The nurses Sarah Bass Allen and Mary Watters, who practiced in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, would have recognized Florence Nightingale’s assertion that “nursing is an art,” a skilled and compassionate calling developed through hands-on experience. Elizabeth Coates Paschall, a Philadelphia healer with an extensive practice, exemplifies literate white women who were deeply engaged in Enlightenment experimental science. Paschall checked out library books that informed the chemical, physiological, and anatomical bases for her therapeutics. She recognized that Black and Indigenous women were also legitimate producers of scientific and healthcare knowledge.

Recovering women healers’ authoritative work is more than a mere antiquarian pastime. The current nursing shortage and the ongoing gender gap in STEM fields support educational researchers’ assertions of the importance of diverse historical role models, particularly for women of color. Recent studies have stressed the need to accentuate the history of women in healthcare and the sciences at all educational levels. Women’s healing and scientific expertise have deep cultural roots, and girls and women can place themselves within this long historical narrative. This seminar, based on Brandt’s book Women Healers, enlivens the struggles and successes of women of the past to assist in navigating contemporary barriers in health care professions.

Bio: Susan Brandt is a lecturer in the history department at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She received her B.S.N. from Duke University and her PhD in History from Temple University. Brandt completed a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her dissertation on women healers was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. Women’s History by the Organization of American Historians. Brandt has published an article in Early American Studies and a chapter in Barbara Oberg, ed., Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World. Her book, Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia (Penn Press, 2022) received Honorable Mention in the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Biennial First Book Award competition. Prior to pursuing a career in history, Brandt worked as a nurse practitioner.

Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia can be purchased from the University of Pennsylvania Press here. Use code BRANDT30 at checkout for a 30% discount. 

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