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Canadian Medical Lives

Series edited by T.P. Morley, M.D.

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Jean I. Gunn: Nursing Leader

By: Natalie Riegler

Published: Fitzhenry & Whiteside (1997)

ISBN: 1550411753

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In 1913 Jean Gunn, a native of Belleville who trained at the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital, became the Superintendent of Nurses at the Toronto General Hospital. For more than a quarter of a century she gave her energy and time to numerous nursing and health issues and the nursing service at the Toronto General.

Recognized as a leader by nurses, doctors, politicians and hospital trustees, she manoeuvred around obstructions with humour, diplomacy, persistence and a fine sense of justice. Her contribution shows that the nursing profession achieved success despite the hierarchical, paternal and oppressive attitudes and behaviour of hospital trustees, medical doctors and politicians towards the nursing profession. Her story delineates the ambivalence which nurses had in working with other women on issues which were not related directly to nursing. It describes the respect with which Gunn was held by colleagues and her students at the General. Her achievements provide an alternative to the traditional interpretation of nursing's history as being oppressed and under patriarchal control, striving unsuccessfully to become a profession.

What Gunn and her nurse colleagues accomplished in her life is relevant to today's problems in the health care system. We must know of those struggles before we lose the gains they fought for.

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