Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 113 / Number 3
Gendering the City, Gendering the Welfare State: The Nurses' Settlement of Richmond, 1900–1930
- Elna C. Green, pp. 276–311
In the Progressive Era South, a remarkable and determined generation of women set out to reform their society. Dissatisfied with conditions in New South cities, they founded institutions and organizations to improve the quality of life of urban dwellers. Free kindergartens, settlement houses, public playgrounds, and a host of other efforts were
among their innovations. In Richmond, the Nurses' Settlement was a unique
manifestation of this reform movement, combining the functions of a settlement house with that of visiting nursing. Modeled after Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement in New York, the Nurses' Settlement provided free nursing care to the poor, and helped to improve the health and welfare of Richmond as a whole.
The Settlement also acted as an incubator of reform ideas, generating further innovations. Settlement workers nurtured the rise of public health nursing. They helped to create the field of social work in the city and to give it professional standing by creating the Richmond School of Social Work. And they quietly challenged the strictures of Jim Crow.
In all these efforts, the female reformers of this generation worked to imbue civic institutions with their maternalist values. They wanted their society to adopt their concerns about the welfare of women and children. They worked to teach both the municipal government and the emerging welfare state that their obligations included these gendered issues. In other words, they perceived the gendering of these institutions as a positive thing, which would help to protect women and children for generations to come.