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Breaking Boundaries

Breaking Boundaries

May 05, 2024

As part of commemorating National Nurses Week, we honour those who came before us. These trailblazers broke boundaries and paved the way for future generations of nurses, shaping the profession into what it is today.

Florence Nightingale, often hailed as the founder of modern nursing, stands as an iconic figure whose legacy continues to inspire. Her tireless efforts during the Crimean War revolutionized healthcare practices and highlighted the importance of sanitation, hygiene, and compassion in nursing care.

Today we honour three other pioneers who truly broke the mold. Their resilience and determination in the face of adversity serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of nurses throughout history.

In addition to these renowned figures, countless other nurses have made significant contributions to the field, often in the face of considerable challenges. From advocating for patients’ rights to pioneering new treatments and techniques, these trailblazing nurses have left an indelible mark on the profession.

As we honor those who came before us during National Nurses Week, let us pay tribute to their courage, vision, and unwavering commitment to healing. Their legacy serves as a reminder of the transformative power of nursing and inspires us to continue pushing boundaries and striving for excellence in patient care.

Canada’s first Black Canadian Registered Nurse: Bernice Redmon

Canada’s first Black public health nurse and the first Black nurse appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada. Born in Toronto in 1917, Redmon had to pursue her education in the United States, as Black women were denied admission to Canadian nursing schools at the time. On her return to Canada in 1945, Redmon began her career in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where she became the first Black nurse to practice in public health. Her dedication and passion for patient care led to her appointment to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada. Her accomplishments inspired organizations to advocate for equality for Black Canadians in health-care education and in the workplace, opening the door to nursing education in Canadian schools.

Canada’s first Asian Canadian Registered Nurse: Agnes Chan

Ah Fung Chan was born in China around 1904. She was one of six sisters, and her parents, hoping that she would have a better life, sold her to a “more prominent” family when she was a girl. As she grew up, Chan was sold several times, including to a family in Victoria. She ran away to a missionary school called the Chinese Rescue Home after “unjust treatment.” She began to go by Agnes Chan.

Still in touch with her family in China, she learned that she now had a baby brother, but another sister had been sold. She wanted to help her family by sending money home, but a missionary charity in Toronto stepped in, and the sister was placed in the Wesleyan Methodist School for Girls in Fatshan, China.

The charity also helped Agnes enroll in nursing school at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

Chan was an exceptional student, top in her class for obstetrics. She did postgraduate pediatric nursing in Detroit, and then returned to China to work at a missionary hospital.

Chan occasionally returned to Canada for nursing conventions. She was promoted to superintendent of nurses at the missionary hospital and during a time of political upheaval, she was “operating the hospital unaided for a year,” a note in the archives reads. She continued to stay in touch with Women’s College, informing her friends about her experiences during the Japanese occupation. Agnes Chan died in 1962.

Canada’s first Indigenous Registered Nurse: Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture traveled far and wide to become a registered nurse. Her determination paid off, and she was the first Native Canadian registered nurse. It was illegal for Native Canadians to get a diploma after elementary school, so Monture had to move to the United States for nursing training. Monture found a way to receive an education and served as an Army nurse during the first World War. She is also reported to be the first Native Canadian woman to receive the right to vote in a Canadian federal election.

The youngest of eight children, she was born on the Six Nations Grand River Reserve in Ohsweken near Brantford, Ontario in Canada. She attended school and got her high school diploma from Brantford Collegiate Institute. Not many women, or indigenous people, were allowed to attend high school. After she graduated, Monture tried to apply to nursing schools in Ontario, Canada. Because of her race, Monture was not accepted in any of the schools. At the time, the federal Indian Act prevented Native Canadian people from getting college degrees. She decided to apply to nursing schools in the United States and was eventually accepted at the New Rochelle Nursing School in New York. She graduated in 1914 and became the first Native Canadian registered nurse. She stayed in the United States and worked as an elementary school nurse.

A few years after she became a nurse, Monture left her job and volunteered as a Nursing Sister with the US Army Nursing Corps. She trained along with thirteen other Canadian nurses for three months. Before she left, Monture went back to visit her family in Canada. She was given the special Mohawk burial clothing from her culture in case she died in the war. She was only 27-years-old at the time, but her courage and determination put her at the front lines of the war. Monture was sent to Buffalo Base Hospital 23 in Vittel, France and was responsible for treating soldiers who were shot or gassed. 

When Monture completed her service in the war, she returned to the Six Nations Reserve in Canada. She continued to work as a nurse and a midwife at a hospital in her community. She was also elected honorary president of the Ohsweken Red Cross in 1939. She married Claybran Monture and raised four children on the Reserve. Her fifth child died as a baby in 1929. She continued to serve as a caretaker in her community until she retired in 1955. A week before her 106th birthday, Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture died and was buried in the St. John’s Anglican Cemetery on the Six Nations Reserve.

References:

  • https://www.bernicecarnegie.com/carnegie-family
  • https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/they-said-i-was-too-tall-too-big-how-three-nurses-broke-through-nursing-s/article_e6826998-b231-5ded-b227-0ddf30bc1ba4.html
  • MLA – Alexander, Kerri Lee.  “Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture.” National Women’s History Museum.  National Women’s History Museum, 2019.  Date accessed
  • Chicago – Alexander, Kerri Lee.  “Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture.”  National Women’s History Museum.  2019.  www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/charlotte-edith-anderson-monture