Date of Award

Fall 12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


School of Urban Planning and Regional Studies

Major Professor

Dr. Robert L. Dupont

Second Advisor

Dr. Connie Z. Atkinson

Third Advisor

Dr. Miki Pfeffer


Through the examination of primary sources largely overlooked by historians, this dissertation traces the professionalization of nursing in New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1881 to 1950 while placing this localized history within the context of national trends. In the late nineteenth century, nursing developed into a middle class profession for women inspired by the careers of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. This dissertation investigates the process by which women became professional nurses while a complex intersection of issues related to gender, race, and class at times advanced, and at other times, hindered their progress towards professionalization. New Orleans serves as a useful case study to illustrate the progression of nursing in both location and time. The city’s subtropical climate and position as a major port of immigration fostered an array of natural and public health disasters that offered an opportunity for the development of professional nursing. Partnerships among male hospital administrators, Catholic Sisters, and upper class clubwomen in New Orleans led to the establishment of seven professional schools, six for whites and one for blacks, that offered specialized nursing education to women of all social classes. When disasters struck New Orleans and elsewhere, nursing for the American Red Cross demanded biracial cooperation for relief work. After the American Red Cross shifted its national mission to war relief and entered into a tenuous partnership with the military, nurses from New Orleans served around the world and at home. Disasters and wars had created opportunities for nurses to earn public recognition and trust and expand control over their careers. Their service in the military particularly influenced federal legislation that raised their status and authority and lifted restrictions on gender and race.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.