The early years of nursing in the Dutch East Indies, 1895–1920
in Colonial caring

From 1900 Dutch nurses arrived in the East Indies, but their numbers were wholly insufficient to meet the colony’s increased demand for competent nursing staff. Therefore European physicians started training native women as nurses. Initial endeavours were disappointing with problems closely connected to the position young women occupied in native society. Young women from poor families were uneducated, whilst those from middle and upper classes often considered it culturally improper to live outside their parents’ home at marriageable age. The poor reputation of governmental hospitals made them only appropriate as work places for lower-class women and women with dubious reputations. European nurses taught and supervised nursing and provided role models. After qualifying, nurses could spend a further two years studying midwifery which combined hospital and community experience. The nurses and midwives were deployed as intermediaries to spread the ideology of western care among the native population, who nevertheless continued to have an aversion to western medicine. The (student) midwives were distrusted because of their youth and unmarried status. Native women variously rejected or embraced such advice or accommodated it selectively. In the main they remained loyal to the indigenous healers, the dukun bayi.

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Colonial caring

A history of colonial and post-colonial nursing

Editors: Helen Sweet and Sue Hawkins
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