Getting care to poor and vulnerable pre-school children has long flummoxed public health reformers. These children have aged out of maternal-infant initiatives but have yet to reach the age when school based health care programs might be effective. As the United States looked to formulate its post-World War One public health agenda, reaching pre-school children took on a new urgency. Reformers looked to public health nurses, secure in their place within poor and vulnerable families, to link care of the pre-school child with new services to pregnant women.
Patricia D’Antonio, PhD, RN, FAAN
Carol E. Ware Professor in Mental Health Nursing
Chair, Department of Family and Community Health
Director, Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing
Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics
Dr. Patricia D’Antonio is an internationally recognized nursing historian whose research demonstrates nurses’ strong influence on public health and the development of health care norms. Her current work on early 20th century health demonstration projects in the United States shows that nurses were central in promoting the current norms of primary care: regular physical examinations, prenatal and dental care, and hearing and eye checkups. She also shows how nurses slowly changed prevailing health beliefs, such as that high infant mortality was “God’s will” and checkups were a ploy to enrich physicians.
Dr. D’Antonio directs Penn Nursing’s Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, a resource for scholars worldwide. The center works with historians of nursing worldwide. Its faculty and students place the history of nursing at the center of debates about health policy, practice, and the education of a new generation of students.
For Dr. D’Antonio, writing the history of nursing means evaluating both successes and failures. For example, in her last book, American Nursing, she drew on firsthand accounts by white and African-American nurses, including men, to discover how these groups historically viewed themselves and each other. She found that a strong nursing identity bridged some historical divides within systems of care and education that had their own strong gender and racial hierarchies.
The Mütter Museum helps the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.