A Message from the President

October 8, 2018

Arlene W. Keeling, PhD, RN, FAAN


The Importance of Nurses Voting: Reflections on Lavinia L. Dock’s Activism


            “ . . . Of all things in the world, the tuberculosis question is a social question and the causes of tuberculosis (outside of the bacillus) are social problems that need the ballot for their changing  (such as bad housing, overwork, underpay, neglect of childhood, etc.)  Take the present question of the underfed school children in New York. How many of them will have tuberculosis? If mothers and nurses had votes there might be school lunches for all those children . . .” [1]

            In 1908, Lavinia Lloyd Dock, a progressive era nurse and political activist for women’s suffrage, wrote to the American Journal of Nursing, admonishing the Nurses’ Associated Alumnae for its vote -- “by a large majority” in attendance at the convention -- against women’s suffrage.  Dock went on to express her shock and humiliation that nurses could not be depended upon “to take instinctively the intelligent and above all the sympathetic position on large human questions,” and then used the example above, noting that there were, as we would say today, “social determinants” of disease, and how nurses could use the power of their votes (if they were allowed to vote) to change these conditions. [2]

            Lavinia Dock was graduated from Bellevue in 1886, and devoted herself to the profession and her work as a social leader.  As such she maintained that nursing (then predominantly a woman’s profession) was inextricably entwined with the women’s movement.  A colleague of Lillian Wald’s, Dock worked at Henry Street Settlement, where she personally witnessed the conditions in which immigrants lived and worked on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  There, racial discrimination, the rise of big business, the distribution of wealth into the hands of a few, urbanization, and inadequate housing spawned social problems. Inadequate sewage systems and trash removal, unventilated and poorly lit factories, and a lack of child labor laws created conditions in which epidemics spread uncontrolled.[3]  As Dock noted: “It was at Henry Street, that I really began to think.”[4] Determined that women could address some of the ills if only they had the vote, Dock was arrested and jailed on three occasions for her militant activism for women’s suffrage. [5]

            Today, as nurses (and all citizens) face an uncertain future related to solving social issues in America – including those of access to health care, cuts to childhood nutrition programs, blatant racial discrimination, an aging infrastructure and a polluted environment – we no longer have to fight for the vote, no matter our gender or race.  We must simply exercise that right.  I encourage you to vote in the coming midterm elections. The health of the nation depends on it.

[1] Lavinia L. Dock, “Letters to the Editor: The Suffrage Question,” The American Journal of Nursing 8, 11 (1908): 925-927 (quote p. 925)
[2] IBID, 925-926
[3] Arlene Keeling, Nursing and the Privilege of Prescription, 1893-2000, (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2007)
[4] Mary Roberts, “Lavinia Lloyd Dock – Nurse, Feminist, Internationalist,” 56, 1 The American Journal of Nursing (1956): 176 -179 (quote p. 177)
[5] IBID



The Benefits of Membership

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.

To find out about these nursing pioneers and their efforts, join the American Association for the History of Nursing.

Click here to join



We look forward to the 2019 Conference in Dallas, TX! 
September 19-21, 2019 at the Sheraton Downtown Dallas
More information to follow.

Thank You to Our 2019 Sponsors!

Thank You to Our 2018 Sponsors! 

Thank you to our sponsors who supported us in 2018 and allowed for a great experience!  

Click Here for photos from the 2018 Conference.