A Feminist Moment
Contributor
Written by
Lynn Dow
October 2017
Promoting
Contributor
Written by
Lynn Dow
October 2017
Promoting

 

I have a lot of stories about my life in nursing and it was hard to decide which ones I should include in Nightingale Tales.  Some, such as the following, I excluded because it seemed insignificant. In retrospect, however, I have changed my mind.  Realizing that times were much different in the 70s, when the women’s movement was in its infancy, I have come to the conclusion that when placed in that time perspective, my actions were quite bold, and worthy of being shared.  So this is the story of my feminist moment.

Hospitals in the 1950s were patriarchal organizations, run by male physicians, who had the last word on all the functions.  Nurses accepted their role as handmaidens and routinely gave up their chair for the doctor when he entered the nurses’ station, opened the elevator doors for him and always addressed him properly. Interactions between the doctors and the nurses, when on duty, were very formal. Once, I was reprimanded by the head nurse for slipping and calling one of the interns by his first name.  It made no difference that I had spent until midnight the night before making out with him in the back seat of his car. We were at work.

However, sometime in the 60s, this formal atmosphere began to lighten up a bit, at least between the house staff and the nurses.  I think this came about because more women were becoming doctors and they felt a closer bond with the nurses than some of their male chauvinistic counterparts. We started to call one another by our first names. That is the doctors called us by our first name but we didn’t dare call the attending physicians by their first name – only the house staff.  This change just happened to coincide with the beginning of the feminist movement.

We nurses felt a little empowered and no longer thought of ourselves as handmaidens – we were being treated as part of a team, despite the fact that the older attending physicians clung to their power status.  We were gathering our courage from the likes of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem who insisted we could do anything we set our minds to.

 I joined a group of like-minded women employees who would meet regularly at lunch time to explore avenues that would give women more of a voice in hospital affairs and to report on what we had done the previous week to champion the cause for women.   Some in the group were lobbying administration for better lounge facilities for women employees, others were asking for a voice at the decision making level.  My goals were not as lofty but I wished I could get up enough nerve to call Dr. Murray, the chief of the orthopedic department and the unit where I was the head nurse, by his first name – after all, he had been calling me Lynn for quite some time.   So one day, on my way back to the unit from one of our lunch time meetings and emboldened by the conversation, I saw my opportunity – Dr. Murray was waiting to make patient rounds with me.  

 We started out - I had my clipboard in hand to make notes on what the patients needed.  At the bedside of one of the patients, Dr. Murray asked “Lynn do you think we can get physical therapy in here twice a day to see Mr. C?”  Not taking my eyes off the clipboard where I was making a note of his request, I replied “Sure Bill, I don’t think that will be a problem.”

I was shaking, waiting for the fall-out. Not a word was spoken, but the look on his face, when he finally realized what I had said, was priceless. From that day on, whether socially or at the bedside, Dr. Murray always addressed me as Mrs. Dow and I always called him Dr. Murray. My feminist moment was over.

Many years later, after he had retired, I ran into him in the hospital on his way to a doctor’s appointment.  “Lynn” he said “good to see you.”  I replied “likewise Dr. Murray.”

 

 

 

 

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