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Nurses’ Duties 100 Years Ago

The following job description was given to floor nurses in institutions similar to Athens’ Lunatic Asylum (circa 1887).                              

In addition to caring for your 50 patients, each nurse will follow these regulations:

  1. Daily sweep and mop the floors of your ward, dust the patient’s furniture and windowsills.
  2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.
  3. Light is important to observe the patient’s condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks. Wash the windows once a week.
  4. The nurse’s notes are important in aiding the physician’s work. Make your pens carefully you may whittle nibs to your individual taste.
  5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m. except on the Sabbath on which day you will be off from 12 Noon to 2 p.m.
  6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the director of nurses will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.
  7. Each nurse should lay aside from each payday a godly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month you should set aside $15.
  8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty shop, or frequents dance halls will give the director of nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intention and integrity.
  9. The nurse who performs her labors and serves her patients and doctors without fault for five years will be given an increase of five cents a day, providing there are no hospital debts outstanding.

Other Interesting Facts:

  • Along with the listing of guidelines and chores, nurses at Athens Lunatic Asylum were responsible for helping with the harvest bounty in the fall, and also tending to the gardening and orchards.
  • During the population explosion at the asylum, one nurse could be responsible for tending to the needs of up to fifty patients in a given ward. Where patient conditions seriously worsened, ten to twelve patients would be allotted to a given nurse for care.
  • At a time when staff was scarce and when monetary benefits couldn’t lure in anymore attendants, many hospitals around the country ‘employed’ Conscientious Objectors. They would be treated as any other hospital employee with the exception that they would have to reside at the hospital and receive an allowance of only $15 dollars a month, plus board, room and laundry.
  • Athens State Hospital School of Nursing was located at the Ridges. The nurses were trained and schooled on site and also had the opportunity to live in special apartments in the asylum.

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