Formation of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Alberta

The Victorian Order of Nurses began in Canada as a project of the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC), a branch of the International Council of Women. The President of the International Council was Lady Ishbel Aberdeen, and her husband was Canada's Governor General from 1893 to 1898. The NCWC was particularly concerned with the level of health care for women and children, especially in the remote areas of the North West Territories.

Local councils were all concerned with doing something about the problems but it was Lady Aberdeen's influence with the federal government that actually put wings to the project. Her idea was that the visiting nurses would be part trained mid-wife, part first aid person, and part home help, particularly in the food preparation area. Women who had lived in the more remote areas would probably be the most useful in doing this work and in understanding the needs. The first proposal didn't get off the ground as many physicians and nurses were concerned about the lower fees the visiting nurses would charge.

Government funding was held back because of the opposition to the plan but a revised plan, allowing for "the medical men" to be the prime care-givers for births, left room for the nurses to prepare for and assist the doctors. Of course, if there were no doctor available, the nurse would just have to get on with things. It was proposed, too, that rather than mid-wives with a certificate, hospital nurses with district nursing training would be hired, and that they would serve the entire community, not just the poor, charging fees whenever possible.

A royal charter to establish the Victorian Order of Nurses was granted by Queen Victoria in 1897, the diamond jubilee celebration of her reign. There was a certain religious fervour that went with these nurses and, in light of the new "germ theory", they tackled sanitation issues wherever they went and talked about "a healthier mode of living." Lady Aberdeen's idea of mid-wives and home helpers rather than fully trained nurses would probably have provided more help to the women and children on the remote homesteads, partly because of lower fees and partly because the shorter training would have been accessible to more women.
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