When love and skill work together, work, skill and the occupational culture of mental nurses at the Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases, 1919-1946

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Dooley, Christopher Patrick Alan
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The Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases became, in 1921, the first mental institution in Western Canada to establish a training school for female nursing attendants. The founding of this school must be seen primarily to have served the psychiatric community, and it conveyed minimal advantage upon its graduates. With limited opportunities for advancement or future employment, mental nurses at the hospital in the 1920s evolved a culture of resistance to the long hours, poor working conditions and restrictive regulations of the training school. By the late 1930s, the Depression had dramatically altered the labour market in Manitoba, and the Hospital was able to exercise a preference for hiring native-born women of higher social class and educational attainment. Unlike the nurses of the 1920s, many of these women saw their affiliation as impermanent and their credential to advantage them in their future career advancement. They were consequently more disposed to subscribe to the ideology of the training school. In response to ongoing marginalization by the general nursing community, the mental nurses of the 1930s differentiated the work that they did from that of general nurses on a conceptual level. They developed a hierarchy of caring that privileged their "caring care" over the more prescriptive clinical care of the general hospital nurse. In so doing they created the intellectual basis for a discrete occupational identity. This identity may have played a pivotal role in the creation of the Western Canadian system of freestanding training schools for psychiatric nurses.