Franco-American nursing history

Two important Franco-American contributions to Maine’s nursing history are documented, during National Nurses Week. The national and annual recognition of nurses coincides with Mother’s Day, and also with the birthday of Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910). In fact, Nightingale raised the Victorian era’s public awareness about the importance of nursing education, during her time caring for battlefield causalities, during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Her caring leadership developed a baseline for nursing education.

These three calendar celebrations, occurring in May, create the proverbial “trifecta” of love, care giving and professional development that are fundamental to the nursing profession.

A Ministry of Healing: A Lifetime of Caring by Marguerite Stapleton

French-Canadian nuns from Montreal arrived in Lewiston and developed several social services organizations including St. Mary’s Hospital and the School of Nursing. (L’Heureux photograph)

In Maine’s nursing history, I am honored to be one of the authors of “Maine Nursing: Interviews and History on Caring and Competence“, with Ann Sossong, and co-authors Susan Henderson and Valerie Hart. This book is a 100 year retrospective report about the history of Maine nursing.

Two distinctly Franco-American histories are included in Maine nursing:

Tante Blanche, savior of her people:  Reported in “The Land In Between: The Upper St. John Valley- Prehistory to World War I“,  Beatrice Craig and Maxine Degenais, “Tante Blanche” is the historical account of Marguerite Blanche, who saved the starving Madawaska colony in 1797, during a time when crops froze and the people faced starvation. When the settlement ran out of food, the men left the community to hunt for meat. “Going from door to door, Marguerite Blanche supervised the sharing of available food and kept the community’s morale up until the hunters came back”.  In fact, her assessment taken about the food needs of the Madawaska community allowed “Tante Blanche” to allocate the available resources, based on the needs of the families. She requested a redistribution of food that enabled the starving to survive until the men returned home. In fact, this strategy is a public health best practices application for evaluating community needs to protect the well being of a community.  As a result of Tante Blanche’s dedication to keeping the Madawaska settlers secure, she is recognized as a “savior of her people”.

“A Ministry of Healing: A Lifetime of Caring”,  is the history about the development of the St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, Maine, by Marguerite Stapleton. This book is available by contacting the Gift Shop at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, in Lewiston.  A dedication is inscribed “for all the women in the Sisters of Charity of Saint Hyacinthe” (also known as the “Grey Nuns”, from Montreal, Canada.

History of St. Mary's Health System

A history of the Saint Mary’s Health System in Lewiston and Androscoggin County, Maine by Marguerite Stapleton. (L’Heureux photograph)

A religious group led by the French-Canadian St. Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771), the Grey Nuns arrived in Lewiston to help the immigrants who were working in the Androscoggin River’s mills. They developed a network of social service programs in Lewiston, and Androscoggin County, in response to the health and well being needs of the thousands of French-Canadian immigrants.

Among the institutions founded by the Grey Nuns was the St. Mary’s Health Care System. Included in this network was the creation of the St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing. Today, the school of nursing is part of the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC) and the Central Maine Community College curricula.

nursing students in the 1950's at St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing

Nursing students circa 1950s picture published in “A Ministry of Healing: A Lifetime of Caring”, by Marguerite Stapleton (L’Heureux photograph)

A previous Bangor Daily News blog about the life of Saint Marguerite d’Youville is at this site.

As National Nurses Day is recognized by all who give, and the patients who receive compassionate and professional care, we’re reminded about the focus of our work with this quote from Florence Nightingale: ” “I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls..”  Certainly, the Nightingale quote represents the diligent service to humanity documented in the history of French-Canadian and Franco-American nurses.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.