Eleanor Hermann
Keynote Speaker 2023

Patricia D’Antonio
Carol E. Ware Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing
Director, Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

Keynote Abstract

Toward a History of Healthcare: A New Paradigm for the History of Nursing and Medicine?

It is a well-worn truism that history is always relevant. The new questions that scholars bring to old
documents reflect not only the past but also pressing questions about the present. But the “new social
history” of the 1960s and 1970s that has structured so much of our work is, in the words of John Harley
Warner, is no longer quite so new.

In this address, I draw the existing literature on the history of nursing to build my argument that a new
paradigm in both the history of nursing and medicine will involve studying these actors and their
practices in relation to each other rather than, as we have done, in isolation. This is not to say that both
disciplines have had the same orientation and the same ambitions. Nursing, as I will argue, has had a
more constant focus and impact on their particular communities; medicine, by contrast, more
successfully articulated a commitment to depersonalized knowledge and expertise that seemed to
transcend individual and community experiences. Yet these may be the two sides of the same proverbial
coin. Nursing and medicine needed each other to make their particular claims to authority, expertise,
and, in the end, to the success of their “scientific agenda.” In the end, I argue, we need to
reconceptualize a new history of healthcare that positions its practices as interactive and all its
practitioners as relational.


Patricia D’Antonio is currently the Carol E. Ware Endowed Professor in Mental Health Nursing, the
Director of the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, and a Senior Fellow at the
Leonard Davis Institute. She is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Nursing and the College of
Physicians of Philadelphia. Dr. D’Antonio has also been inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International
Nurse Research Hall of Fame. She is also the former chair of the department of family and community
health at Penn Nursing, and is the former editor of the Nursing History Review, the official journal of the
American Association for the History of Nursing.

Dr. D’Antonio’s research focus is on the history of nursing and health care. Dr. D’Antonio is particularly
interested in nursing’s work in homes and hospitals, and the many layer meanings ascribed to that work
by nurses themselves, and their families, friends, families, and communities. Her newest book, Nursing
with a Message: Public Health Demonstrations in New York City (Rutgers University Press, 2017),
explores the ways in which nurses were central to the building of what we now recognize as primary
health care. Her earlier book, American Nursing: A History of Knowledge, Authority and the Meaning of
Work (Johns Hopkins Press: 2010) explores the diverse ways in which women and some men from
different race, ethnic and class backgrounds reframed the most traditional of gendered expectations –
that of caring for the sick – in ways that allowed them to renegotiate the terms of some of their
experiences in their own families and communities and, ultimately, to reshape their own sense of worth,
value, and power. Her first book on 19th century psychiatric care has been published as Founding Friends:
Families, Staff, and Patients at the Friends Asylum in Early 19th Century Philadelphia (Lehigh University
Press: 2006).

Dr. D’Antonio’s research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Endowment
for the Humanities, the Penn Humanities Forum, the National Library of Medicine, and the National
Institute of Mental Health. She has received numerous awards for her work including the Lavinia Dock,
Mary Roberts, Adelaide Nutting, and President’s Awards from the American Association for the History
of Nursing; the Legacy Award from the Penn Nursing Alumni Association; and the Agnes Dillon Randolph
Award from the University of Virginia. All her books, including three co-edited volumes, have received
the Book of the Year Award (History and Policy) from the American Journal of Nursing.