The Visiting Nurse and the Public Schools, April 25, 1908

Hull House, Chicago

I am asked to speak for a little while upon visiting nurses in our schools. I presume as a member of the Chicago School Board I ought to keep silence, but nevertheless those of us who see a great many children, especially the children of foreign-born parents, see in the attendance of the visiting nurses one of the very best opportunities for helping the children and helping the families, as they are found in the public schools, and more than that it is a matter of public safety, and largely, too, a matter of public health that a nurse should be kept in each public school.

New York has now some seventy-five nurses, and with such representation of nurses in the public schools New York is so much in our advance. I see a nurse here this morning who has been closely identified with the work there, who can tell you more than I or anyone else what the result has been. The best of medical inspection succeeds only in sending the child home; they say that such and such a child would have a bad effect on the other children, and therefore he is sent back to the family physician for treatment. In most cases a family physician is not called in, because in the words of Artemus Ward, "There ain't none," and therefore the child is kept out indefinitely, and the public school so far as that child is concerned, is doing nothing, and the child continues to play in the alley and on the streets or sit on the doors of the tenement with the rest of them.

We made an experiment a year and a half ago, and it was really made at the visiting nurses' suggestion, taking a group of three of our public schools in the crowded district and including the parish schools in the immediate vicinity to see what might be done in the reduction of truancy, and all the children sent home were followed up by the [page 2] visiting nurses, and it made the greatest difference possible. The child went home and, of course, would have [stayed] at home, but he was followed by the visiting nurse who discovered in many cases that he could be sent back in a day or two, and in many other instances where this could not be done, by watching the difficulty and treating it, in a short time they would be back in school. This is the whole idea, the medical inspection was succeeded and almost transposed by the addition of the visiting nurses. The medical inspection got the child out of school, and the visiting nurse got the child back. It seems almost foolish to have medical inspection without the visiting nurse. Not that we would abandon the medical inspection; in no sense are they rivals, and in no sense is the nurse to make a diagnosis, but one without the other is insufficient and not to be tolerated. I am sure that here in Chicago we are working towards the nurses in the schools. We had them for one halcyon ten weeks, but owing to lack of funds and political difficulties the ten weeks were all we were able to get. But I am sure New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia and other cities of the east already have some, and we hope in time that they will be cared for in Chicago.

We have laws in Illinois compelling the parent to send the child to school, the children are made to go to school whether the parents wish it or not, and to do that we have not acquired the right to leave them there without proper care. Not only the protection of the well child in the school should be thought of, but proper care of the child who is ill. It is in the light, I take it, of a public obligation, and that where we insist on each child going to school we must take care of him while he is attending.

Then I think there is another thing which might be said to you this morning. Many years ago, in the very beginning of institutions and foundling schools and orphan asylums, a number of children were gathered in poor-houses, they were never successfully cared for, and certain diseases were developed among those children which arose from the very circumstance of their being closely kept together. The great difficulty of taking care of a lot of children together has been recognized by the medical profession. Some of them even adhere when a number of children are brought together, even for the few hours daily in the public schools; there is a certain difficulty about managing a number of children together. Probably the only way to have really healthy children is to have them with their own mothers in their own comfortable homes, and I believe it is the duty of the public to minimize that danger as far as possible, to minimize it on the physical as well as the moral side. The public school teachers are trying to do their best, the community [page 3] must be represented. The school board does its duty in the teaching force, but the community as a whole comes in through the presence of the visiting nurse, and she must have that strong sense of moral obligation that should characterize every nurse, whether she is a visiting nurse or a hospital nurse, and we feel that you would do that, and we sincerely hope that every school will have its visiting nurse. 

* Address to the Conference of Visiting Nurses, held in Chicago, April 25, 1908.

Item Relations


Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>