Students Nurses Fight for Their Rights

The plight of eleven student nurses who were fired for trying to improve their working conditions at  Presbyterian Hospital reveals the depth of hostility management towards labor activism in 1919.

Panoramic View of the Presbyterian Hospital. 1925. Photograph. Williams Research Center. The Historic New Orleans Collection.

The trouble for these nurses went back to September 28, when not satisfied with the working conditions of the hospital, they thought of writing a petition with demands to their supervisor at Presbyterian Hospital. Instead of hearing their complaint, however, they were immediately fired from their training positions, and as a result, also lost education credits as well. These credits were needed because without them, the nurses would not be able to enter other institutions except as probationers.

Miss Margaret Michel, the acting superintendent of the hospital whenever Miss Julia Jordon was absent, was the one who fired the nurses, charging them with having “struck” while on duty. The student nurses claimed that they all signed a petition for better living conditions, however, the petition had never reached officials which meant that the petition never went through. Miss Leah Levy, one of the eleven student nurses who requested her education credits, later received a letter from Miss Julia Jordon, the superintendent of the Presbyterian Hospital  denying her request. because she had been fired.

The nurses appealed to the City Federation of Women’s Clubs to look into the situation between themselves and the hospital. The hospital board of administrators denied the club women but one member of the board, a Tulane University professor named Charles Turck, resigned his position in protest. Because they were denied a hearing, the City Federation of Women’s Clubs requested the hospital to give the credits and that they had only ten days to comply with the request; they did not receive a reply from the board of administrators. Though the City Federation received no response from the hospital, Miss Leah Levy had individually made a request for her credits which she was able to receive from Miss Julia Jordon.

On December 12, 1919, it was announced that after months of fighting, the 11 student nurses had finally won the fight and received their credits. This whole situation occurred during an era of labor activism and unrest. During this time, there were many strikes that were happening and so the student nurses felt like they could join in and let their voices be heard. The majority of these strikes consisted of males. This occurred during the time when women’s voices were starting to get heard and so these students nurses contributed to the cause. 1919 was also the year when the 19th Amendment was created which allowed women the right to vote. This is not an issue that could be solved behind closed doors. It had to be brought out to the attention of the public through media, in this case the newspaper.

Bibliography

Congress passes the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. (2010, February 9). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-passes-the-19th-amendment.

Great Steel Strike of 1919. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Great_Steel_Strike_of_1919.

“Nurses Win Out In Hospital Fight To Obtain Credits Miss Leah Levy Gets Letter Showing.” Times-Picayune. December 12, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.