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Nursing during the Great Depression

Washington State Nurses Association

What was it like to be a nurse in the Great Depression? There’s plenty of historical information available about what was going on in the industry as a whole…but what most of us really want to know is the answer to questions such as “What was it like to be a nurse back then? What motivated people to choose this profession? What do I have in common with the nurses who came before me?”

Let’s take a look at the big-picture facts and hear some personal anecdotes from nurses who were just graduating from nursing school at the time.

The New Nursing Profession Suffers a Blow
The decade of the Great Depression came at a critical time in the history of nursing. The concept of educating nurses as healthcare professionals had just begun to catch on. Nursing schools with high-quality programs were becoming established. For the first time in U.S. history, being a nurse was seen as a respectable career path for women.

Hazel Joy, RN: “People sort of looked up to nurses. You had to study for three years—intense study, really. I was always proud to be a nurse and I think all of us were at that time.”

On the public health front, malnutrition, overcrowding, poor sanitation and other side effects of extreme poverty caused by the sudden economic decline took an enormous toll on human health. However, the rise in the number of people seeking hospital care didn’t lead to the creation of more nursing jobs. In fact, many hospitals and nursing schools closed due to lack of funding.

Next: Results of Widespread Unemployment →

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