What is essential for women in the development of the nursing profession?

What is essential for women in the development of the nursing profession?


The constitution of Nursing as a discipline and profession is marked by the history of humanity and the needs that have been happening in it to give rise to the passage of the domestic job of caring developed by women to a discipline with a body of its own Knowledge. Thus, the field’s history is divided into two stages: before the French and Industrial Revolution, in which we find the predecessors of the nurses: the domestic caregivers, the consecrated women and the assistants of the doctors. After this period, Florence Nightingale defines the object of nursing, and Ethel Bedford Fenwick marks the beginning of the social recognition of the nascent discipline and profession.

Pre-Modern Stage: Roots of Nursing

The pre-modern stage of Nursing development is located before the advent of the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Thus, during this period of humanity, care has gone through different stages according to humanity’s changes. In this grand stage, women are initially recognised as caregivers and empirical builders of a quantity of Knowledge regarding the power of plants to cure diseases.

This accumulated Knowledge of the woman who became a caregiver was made possible by an event that marked women’s lives throughout human history: the social division of labour. For this, to the woman, conceived by the fragility and delicacy of the physical and by the phenomenon of giving continuity to life through motherhood; They are assigned tasks that require little effort and strength, such as housekeeping and agriculture; designating the man, the tasks such as hunting and the jobs for which the use of physical force was needed. In addition to the social division of labour in human groups at that time, polytheistic religions, in which there were male and female gods.

The latter represented femininity, love, motherhood, agriculture and care for alters and houses. On the contrary, the male gods were the actors of war and work that required significant physical effort.

This is how, through practices related to body care, basically during pregnancy and childbirth and care around food, some women develop whole personal learning that is transmitted from woman to woman about the secrets of plants, not only to ensure the survival and subsistence of their human group but also to develop empirical Knowledge about the properties of plants for curing diseases. The latter is the origin of pharmacopoeia

At that time, Knowledge of the healing properties of plants made women the healer. She possessed secrets and Knowledge acquired empirically, which were transmitted through oral tradition from generation to generation, and this was only possible through the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Motherhood, according to Colliere (1997), “Creates a union that is prolonged, not only by hands, touch but also by the use of symbolic elements of life: water, plants and their derived elements: oils, lotions, perfumes that in turn, they unite them with the universe and assure them of protection”.(1) Thus, care was assumed from corporality and the relationship of the body with the universe. For this,

In a subsistence economy such as the prevailing one then, care was considered a service activity to which everyone had rights and was paid through the exchange of species, implying reciprocity and solidarity and never a charitable or charitable service. This, from the definitions of pre-capitalist social, and economic formations such as the primitive community and slavery, did not mean activity of monetary value. However, they had a high value and social recognition due to their necessity for the subsistence of human groups.

With the fall of the Greco-Roman empire and the advent and consolidation of Christianity, the designation of women’s roles was no longer just a matter of the social division of labour whose reference was the delicacy of women and their consideration for being the procreator of life. At this stage, this became a problem of the power of men over women.

In the Middle Ages, at the beginning of the 5th century, the Catholic Church took uncontrollable power with feudalism as the prevailing system. Thus, the connotations of sin that the Judeo-Christian religion has and women’s economic and political interests were entrenched. During this time, women were relegated and despised, from an explanation of the symbolism of sin and dirt that the female body framed; relegating body care as an emblem, and going to be hated and to gain value the respect of the soul.

Nuns. From this moment on, what was known as “the witch hunt” was undertaken, through which it was intended to end the power embodied by women caregivers.

first nurse

Care went from being, from the symbolism of the body to that of the sick soul, based on a whole system of learned Knowledge necessary for human groups’ survival, to care only for the man who embodied sin in his body. And the disease was the fruit of it; without any knowledge, only faith in God was enough to relieve sick souls.

It was thus, as, during this time, care was provided uniquely to poor and sinful people, being only those who possessed wealth and could access the healing of doctors. The respect for evil souls was provided by the nuns, standing out, among others, in the community of the Sisters of Charity. This stage represented a setback and obscurantism in the history of humanity and care.

Assuming illness, according to the dogmas of the Catholic Church, as the need to know suffering and pain for the redemption of souls and the body as the deposit of dirt and disease, the Knowledge and empirical Knowledge accumulated by women in previous times were relegated and consigned to oblivion. Thus, care carried a robust religious burden for the salvation of souls and as a way of bringing the Christian message to the people. The decline in care, as the body and corporality lost their importance, the reduction in care was also reflected in hygienic habits that lost their value as part of caring for men.

The religious life of consecrated women dedicated to the care and redemption of souls was assumed as a form of social emancipation for women. Still, at the same time, it meant the degradation and use of women as a means for the power plans of the Catholic Church.

This fact was marked by the order of the Catholic Church of the closure of female religious life, reaffirming again the social division of men and women: the first, in activities that were carried out outside the domestic and the second, activities in closed places such as convents and hospitals. This, in addition to the monopolisation of education by the church, consolidated not only the power of the church but also the management of women’s destinies and the power exercised over them by the institution.

In this fateful stage of humanity that marked the history of care and the birth and development of Nursing in such a negative way, it was considered a service of charity and goodwill, where the subject of care was not considered the end of the activity but the means for the redemption of the souls of the sick and consecrated women. For this reason, in addition to being a selective activity aimed at what was considered the most despicable of humanity, the poor and sinners, it was not paid, but it was not socially recognised either.

The nuns, in addition to the obscurantist message they conveyed, were submissive women with little education, at the expense of which the hierarchy of the Catholic Church received great economic benefits as a result of the charitable donations made by the feudal lords to save their souls. This monetary contribution was enhanced since consecrated women did not mean an expense for the church. In their eagerness to redeem their souls, not only did they not charge for their services, but their living expenses were minimal, as were their living conditions.