Working towards health, Christianity and democracy
American colonial and missionary nurses in Puerto Rico, 1900–30
in Colonial caring

This chapter explores intersections between nurse education and Americanisation in colonial Puerto Rico. It examines overlapping messages of Protestant missionaries and the U.S. colonial government, highlighting U.S. nurses’ active participation in those messages. Nurses’ letters to nursing journals, annual mission reports and colonial government’s annual reports to the Department of War, reveal strong connections between evangelical mission goals and the colonial government’s goals. Trained nursing, gradually became incorporated into ideas of proper American health care. Prior to the American occupation, there was no tradition of trained nursing in these colonies; rather, care was provided by family members, hired nurses with no formal training, or Roman Catholic nursing sisters. The U.S. government promoted the nursing profession as contributing towards successful self-governance for the territories because trained native nurses would minister to their countrymen and demonstrate proper sanitation and health practices. Similarly Protestant missions expected that nurses trained in the mission hospitals would offer health care to their communities, while also evangelising the Protestant understanding of Christianity in the predominantly Roman Catholic colonies. Nurses’ correspondence demonstrates they could not (and did not want to) separate the ‘American’ from the nursing, no matter whether in secular colonial or mission settings.

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Colonial caring

A history of colonial and post-colonial nursing

Editors: Helen Sweet and Sue Hawkins
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