President's Message
April 2, 2020
Eleanor C Bjoring in the polio epidemic
Courtesy Bjoring Center, UVA

Dear Valued Members,

When the nursing profession’s leaders declared 2020 the “Year of the Nurse,” they probably had no idea how true that would be. Today the nation is in the beginning stages of fighting the COVID19 pandemic, and nurses are indeed in the headlines. As I write this, I am at a loss for words to describe how proud I am of nurses who respond to patients’ needs in times of public health emergencies. They have done so in the past, as epidemics of yellow fever, influenza, diphtheria, and polio ravaged cities and towns throughout the world, and they are doing so again today.

Knowing that the majority of our members are nurses, and currently are under extreme stress in hospitals, clinics, public health departments, and nursing schools throughout the country, makes me appreciative for all you are doing.  Thank you!  You are making history.  And given that, I will keep this message short. Journal, document, or photograph what is happening if you can; but if not, just take care of yourselves and your families in this time of crisis.  Please let us know if AAHN can help in any way.

Stay safe, and feel free to send me your thoughts: [email protected]

Arlene W. Keeling, PhD, RN, FAAN


Home-Made Masks: Useful but Not Enough in 1918;
Useful but Not Enough Now

 Marian Moser Jones
University of Maryland School of Public Health
[email protected]

Courtesy Beth Hundt, PhD, RN

How many masks can you make? Friends with sewing machines – many drowning in child care, elder care, and work – have been inundated with these demands through social media.

Posting homemade mask patterns and tutorials online, an improvised army of volunteers is producing thousands of non-regulation face coverings for COVID-19 first responders, and is asking you to do so too.

Yes, it is noble that citizens have taken matters into their own hands, as the supply chain for N95 masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) remains entangled in politics, red tape, and profiteering, forcing health care workers on the pandemic’s frontlines to wear bandanas and sports goggles to protect themselves.

But while this grassroots response may seem like a heart-rending return to the homespun American voluntarism of yesteryear, history tells us a more complicated story.

As a public health historian who’s studied the American Red Cross, I am reminded of the eight million female Red Cross volunteers who organized industrial-style assembly lines to roll bandages and sew garments for wounded troops during World War I. When pandemic influenza arrived in 1918, they switched gears to churn out 1.4 million gauze masks.

In Boston, the first U.S. city struck by pandemic flu, 537 volunteers from the local chapter worked for 17 days straight to produce 83,606 masks, according to chapter records. The Red Cross Motor Corps, affluent women who drove their own cars on Red Cross errands, delivered the masks to hospitals, local organizations, and private homes.

Other cities followed suit, with 30,000 chapter sewing rooms participating. Red Cross publications touted the efficiency of this system. “One day an S.O.S. call came into central headquarters,” Red Cross leader Henry Davison later wrote. “Contagion was rampant at an Iowa camp and the hospital must have ward masks. [The] Chicago [office] had none on hand, but she knew where they were to be had, and in three days twenty thousand of the precious filters were on their way from a northern neighbor.”

However, news reports depict a less organized picture. In Richmond, Virginia, the local chapter announced it would sell home-made masks for two cents apiece. When customers lined up at chapter headquarters, (likely spreading flu), the chapter soon ran out.  Moreover, given that most white hospitals refused to treat African Americans even during the pandemic, and that many Black women reported being rebuffed when trying to volunteer at local chapters, it is also highly likely that chapters preferentially distributed home-made masks to white hospitals and white people.

Additionally, mask makers likely exposed themselves to flu: photographs of these activities depict 30 or more uniformed volunteers working shoulder-to-shoulder in crowded rooms. Such gatherings ran counter to local public health officials’ bans on public gatherings to stem the spread of flu. Considering that many U.S. women engaged in such unpaid work due to social pressure to demonstrate their patriotism, and that “slackers” who failed to do so were publicly shamed, the additional disease exposure that mask-making women incurred becomes more ethically problematic.

National Library of Medicine

Overall, these collective mask-making projects exemplify the  patchwork nature of the social restrictions that local officials in the U.S. tried to impose to stem the flu in 1918 and 1919. The delayed, volunteer-driven response in many U.S. cities, along with the staggering mortality from influenza, serves as an object lesson about the weaknesses of federalism in addressing a pandemic.

In World War II, millions of American women again gathered in Red Cross sewing rooms to roll bandages and make surgical supplies. But by then, the War Department deemed that homemade medical supplies failed to meet modern hospital standards. Instead it promised to use these items to meet shortages in military hospitals within the U.S., while contracting with commercial firms to obtain bandages “especially processed, sterilized and sealed for shipment to the front lines.”

We can learn from this development. Just as hand-rolled bandages had become backup supplies by the Second World War, home-made masks in 2020 should be reserved for people in the second line of vulnerability – workers who cannot avoid contact with the public but are not pandemic health care workers or first responders.

Meanwhile, we should continue to collectively insist that government and manufacturing sectors be mobilized immediately to produce and distribute sufficient, adequate, top-quality PPE for the workers on the front lines of this pandemic, the way the War Department insisted on providing professional-grade hospital supplies for troops fighting in World War II. While homespun solutions may help, they are insufficient to address this 21st-century crisis.


37th AAHN Annual Conference Update

Dear AAHN Colleagues, Members and Friends,
It is with sincere regret that we announce the likely postponement of the 37th AAHN Annual Conference, due to take place this September in Chester, England. We know this will come as an enormous disappointment, not only to those who submitted abstracts for presentation but also to our hosts in Chester, our colleagues from numerous countries, and others who agreed to participate in our event.  Nonetheless, given the widespread impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the fluidity of the situation, we believe it is in our best interest to begin to develop an appropriate contingency plan.

As healthcare professionals, our primary concern is always the responsibility we have towards our members and colleagues, and all others who support nursing and the nursing history community. Whilst only a short time ago we felt optimistic that September was far enough away to confidently proceed with our plans, as it stands today [20 March] we cannot guarantee the delivery of an event that would ensure the safety of  all attendees.

While we do not currently have an alternate date scheduled, at this time we are asking all members and interested participants to pause their plans as they relate to registration, flights, hotel bookings or other arrangements for the September event.  We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will keep our members and key stakeholders abreast of our plans.  (Our post-conference trip is on pause as well. Witte Travel is swamped right now, so I ask you to hold off contacting them if you can, until we know more).

For those who have submitted abstracts, please know that we are continuing to review them and that we will provide an opportunity for every presenter once our final course of action has been determined. Once you are notified that your abstract has been accepted, you may list it on your curriculum vita as “Peer-reviewed and accepted for International AAHN Conference, (date TBD given COVID19 pandemic)”
Our thoughts and concerns are with those affected by this pandemic around the world. Please stay safe, take care of yourselves and each other. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] with questions.
Arlene Keeling PhD, RN, FAAN


Why don’t you write something for the website?

Dear members,

As you may be aware the Bulletin was disbanded at the end of 2019 after many years offering news, research updates and local events.

In 2020, we all expect news to be up-to-date and since the Bulletin was produced only twice a year, news was often no longer ‘new’ when you read about it.

Instead, we are would like you to use the website to tell colleagues and fellow-members of your activities, ideas and news.

Do you have a short research item, some news of publications, research funding or activity?  May be you have visited a fascinating archive, held a local nursing history event or are engaging in a new collaboration? Perhaps you have started a new job and are now bringing nursing history to your new employment? Perhaps you have been lucky to travel to new lands and have discovered untold histories of our profession?

If so, we would love to hear about it.

Please send your items to me, the AAHN Chair of Publications and I will pass them onto our web team. I am happy to check any ideas for the website if you are unsure.

I look forward to hearing from you very soon.

Dr Jane Brooks
[email protected]

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History provides current nurses with the same intellectual and political tools that determined nursing pioneers applied to shape nursing values and beliefs to the social context of their times. Nursing history is not an ornament to be displayed on anniversary days, nor does it consist of only happy stories to be recalled and retold on special occasions. Nursing history is a vivid testimony, meant to incite, instruct and inspire today's nurses as they bravely tread the winding path of a reinvented health care system.
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Thank You to Our 2019 Conference Sponsors! 

Thank you to all who helped make the AAHN 36th Annual Conference a success and a huge thank you to our sponsors!

Click here for photos from the 2019 Conference.






We look forward to the 2020 Conference in Chester, England.
September  10-12, 2020
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            BREAKING NEWS             

The American Association for the History of Nursing is proud to support The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Recognition Act in honor of the thousands of Cadet Nurses who studied and served under the U.S. Cadet Corps program in World War II.

About Friends of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps World War II

This group was formed to pass the 2018 bipartisan legislation, "U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act." It was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as HR7258 and in the U.S. Senate as Senate Bill 3729.  There is no financial or VA benefits. These women of the Greatest Generation only request to be honored as Veterans of WWII with an American flag and a gravesite plaque forever marking their proud service to our country during wartime in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps.  

Action Needed:  Be a  "Friend" of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps WWII.  
How:  Simply let your U.S. Senators and House Representatives know that passing this new bill is important to you by going to their website and clicking on the button.