March 25: History of Nursing Lecture: Black Nurses, Enslaved Labour, and the Royal Navy, 1790-1820

Annual History of Nursing Forum Lecture: Black Nurses, Enslaved Labour, and the Royal Navy, 1790-1820

25 March 2021, online

Dr Erin Spinney reveals the history of Black nurses before Florence Nightingale in the annual History of Nursing Forum Lecture. It will take place on 25 March at 6 PM.

Nursing historians usually examine the period after Florence Nightingale and focus on the establishment of a white middle-class professional identity, like Nightingale herself.

But what about non-white nurses before Nightingale? For the annual History of Nursing Forum lecture of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Erin Spinney discusses the employment of Black nurses in the West Indian naval hospitals of the Royal Navy in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. She considers how eighteenth-century understandings of tropical diseases contributed to Black labour in medical settings, how the Royal Navy navigated its relationship with enslavement, and the working conditions of these nurses.

Erin Spinney is a sessional lecturer at the University of Lethbridge. Her research interests focus on nursing, labour, environmental, and medical history in the long eighteenth-century British Atlantic World. She has published on eighteenth-century naval nursing and environmental history.

Please register to attend and a link will be circulated in advance with instructions on how to join the event. All tickets must be booked individually.

Register Here


AAHN Talking History Webinars 2021

Talking History 2021

A Series of Monthly Webinars on the History of Nursing.

Join us for new, original research in the history of nursing. Nursing CEs will be given.

Free for members –  While free to members, donations to defray the cost of the webinar are welcome.
$25 per session for non-members**

Webinar Sessions

February 20, 2021 11am-12:30pm EST
Midwifery and Race

Moderator: Winifred Connerton

Presenters Topics
Melissa Sherrod Meddlesome Midwifery: Institutional Racism as a Factor in Unnecessary Cesarean Deliveries
Eileen J.B. Thrower “With no Words to Get Me Out”: Elizabeth Sharp and the Development of Nurse-Midwifery in Georgia
Charlotte Swint Margaret Charles Smith Midwife from Eutaw, Greene County, Alabama

March 19, 2021 11am-1pm EST
Nursing Education

Moderator: Dominique Tobbell

Presenters Topics
Carole Bennett Negotiating the landscape of racism History in the making
April Matthias Untangling Typhoid: Comparing Early 20th Century Instruction for Quality, Evidence-Based Nursing Care
Janet Engstrom Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Courage: The Pioneering Work of Mary Bristow Willeford
Hrag David Yacoubian From Witnessing a genocide to establishing American style nursing education  and hospitals: U.S. nurses in the near east 1915-1923


*Note there is a fee for these panels if you are not a AAHN Member.


Upcoming Panel: Black (in)Visibility: Black Nurses in Canada who Paved the Way

The Consortium for Nursing History Inquiry in the School of Nursing is holding a panel discussion for Black History Month called: Black (in)Visibility: Black Nurses in Canada Who Paved the Way. This panel will recognize the significant contributions of Black nurses to health care in British Columbia and Canada. The panel will feature a keynote address by renown historian Dr. Karen Flynn, an Associate Professor in the Departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and African-American Studies Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Flynn’s book Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora won the Lavinia L. Dock Award from the American Association for the History of Nursing. The panel will also feature Dr. Lydia Wytenbroek, an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at UBC, who will discuss the importance of historical scholarship as a form of inquiry; Ismalia De Sousa, a doctoral student at UBC School of Nursing, who will be presenting initial findings of her project on the history of Black nurses and midwives in BC, and which offers a new perspective on Black women’s nursing work in the BC health care context; and Dr. Dzifa Dordunoo, President of the Coalition of African, Caribbean and Black Nurses in British Columbia and an Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Victoria, who will provide a concluding commentary. This panel is free and open to the public.

Register Here: https://nursing.ubc.ca/events/2021/black-nurses-who-paved-way


Upcoming Panel (Feb 25): Black (in)Visibility: Black Nurses in Canada who Paved the Way

Hold the Date: Black History Month Panel

On Feb 25 from 12 – 1:45 PM, the Consortium for Nursing History Inquiry is hosting a panel for Black History Month called: Black (in)Visibility: Black Nurses in Canada who Paved the Way. This panel will recognize the significant contributions of Black nurses to health care in British Columbia and Canada. Invited panelists include: Dr. Dzifa Dordunoo, Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Victoria, Dr. Karen Flynn, Associate Chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies & African American Studies at the University of Illinois, Ismalia De Sousa, Doctoral Student at UBC School of Nursing, and Dr. Lydia Wytenbroek, Assistant Professor of Nursing at UBC. Please hold the date and join us for this important conversation! Registration to follow!

More info to come: https://nursing.ubc.ca/events/2021/black-nurses-who-paved-way


The Ongoing Impact of Colonialism & Racism on Canada’s Health Care System

By Lydia Wytenbroek & Emily Peacock


Dr. Lydia Wytenbroek:
Indigenous people in Canada experience widespread disparities in health outcomes. I have found that undergraduate students come to recognize this through discussions about the incidence, morbidity, and mortality of various chronic illnesses. Students have also explored how chronic illness statistics can be reflective of the structural discrimination and racism that shapes health care policies and practices. In class discussions, we have considered the ways in which health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are rooted in Canada’s colonial history. In the fall of 2020, I invited students to attend several academic talks on the history of health and colonialism. On October 30, 2020, the Department of History at the University of Lethbridge held a lecture by zoom as part of its Driedger Lecture Series. The lecture was delivered by guest speaker Mary Jane Logan McCallum, a Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History and Archives at the University of Winnipeg. McCallum’s talk was called Structures of Indifference: An Indigenous Life and Death in a Canadian City and was based on a book by the same title that McCallum co-wrote with historian Adele Perry.


Structures of Indifference focuses on the life and death of Brian Sinclair, an Anishinaabe man, who died in 2008 from an easily treatable infection after spending thirty-four hours in the emergency waiting room at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. Hospital staff ignored and dismissed him, assuming he was homeless or intoxicated, and failed to provide him with necessary medical care. Following his death, an inquest found that no single person was to blame and that the situation could have happened to anyone. Instead of focusing on racism and discrimination, the inquest linked Sinclair’s death primarily “to multiple failures in the policies and procedures of processing patients in the ER” (McCallum & Perry, 2018, p. 132). In Structures of Indifference, McCallum and Perry challenge the findings of the inquest by placing Sinclair’s life and death in historical context and exposing the structures of indifference that undermine and devalue Indigenous lives. Historical methodology is one tool that nursing students can use to explore broader issues of racism and systemic discrimination in healthcare, as well as foster discussions about ways to promote health equity. What follows is Emily’s critical reflection on Mary Jane Logan McCallum’s talk on October 30, 2020.


Emily Peacock:
Nursing students are continually reminded of the caring and benevolent nature of the nursing profession. If that is so, then why do Indigenous people suffer neglect from healthcare providers time and time again? In a transformative lecture, Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum discussed the prevalence of racism in Canada’s health care system by talking about Brian Sinclair’s death. McCallum began by reviewing the history of colonialism in Winnipeg. Even though Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre was established on Indigenous land through Indigenous displacement, Indigenous people were denied access to quality health care. For much of the twentieth century, Indigenous people in Manitoba received medical care in segregated hospitals that were often understaffed and under resourced. Indigenous people wanted access to modern healthcare facilities and were interested in adapting and combining various forms of medicine to best support their communities. Despite this, they were met with significant resistance by a health care system created to benefit predominantly white settler Canadians.


Fast forward to 2008, when Brian Sinclair wheeled himself into the Emergency Department of the Health Sciences Centre where he was seeking care for a treatable bladder infection. During his time in the Emergency Department, health care providers ignored and neglected Sinclair. On multiple occasions, members of the public alerted health care providers to Sinclair’s deteriorating condition, but health care professionals dismissed these concerns by suggesting that he was likely homeless or intoxicated. Ultimately, it was their indifference that led to Sinclair’s death only thirty-four hours later. This indifference, as McCallum and Perry (2018) point out in their book, and the related neglect, continue to influence the provision of healthcare. Their book has not lost any of its relevance, as in September 2020, we witnessed how nurses taunted 37-year-old Atikamekw woman Joyce Echaquan, who captured the nurses’ failed actions and abuse on her phone as she died. While the Quebec premier condemned the actions of these nurses, two of whom were subsequently fired, he was also quick to assure the public that this situation was a ‘one-off’ and not an issue of racism. Yet, Indigenous lives, like Brian Sinclair and Joyce Echaquan, continue to be lost. In addition, individualizing the nurses’ actions also avoids any consideration about how these might be indications of larger health care system failures. This begs the question: How can this possibly not be an issue of systemic racism?


McCallum, M. J., & Perry, A. (2018). Structures of indifference: An Indigenous life and death in a Canadian city. University of Manitoba Press.


Lydia Wytenbroek is an Assistant Professor at UBC School of Nursing. She is a historian of twentieth-century health care, with a particular interest in the history of nursing.


Emily Peacock graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Psychology. She has spent the previous four summers working for the B.C. Wildfire Service and is currently a nursing student at the University of British Columbia.