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Handmaids of medicine : Filipino nurses' liminality in infant mortality campaigns Peralta, Christine Noelle

Abstract

In the 1920s, Philippine infant mortality campaigns called into question Filipino women’s capacity to care as both mothers and nurses. Therefore the campaign required a two-step process of first remodeling elite Filipino women as nurses who would then transfer their knowledge to mothers. In order to address the needs of the people, nurse education needed to be remodeled. Therefore, the colonial government partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) to remodel Philippine nursing through an experimental system that emphasized university training and specialization in public health. Even though the Foundation wanted to prove the universality of this system it was inevitably hampered by local conditions in the Philippines. It would take two decades for a university nurse training system to finally take shape. Although it took years for the university system to be established offshoots of the original program did take root, particularly the RF fellowship program that sponsored Filipino nurses to temporarily migrate to the U.S. to study abroad. By examining a variety of sources, including RF records, letters, newspapers, dissertations and conference transcripts, this paper considers the role Filipino student nurses played in infant mortality campaigns. Filipino nurses sought U.S. training, in order to have their medical authority recognized, but in seeking recognition within a system that saw Filipino nurses as inherently inferior due to their race, gender, and profession meant that their authority would perpetually be called into question. For Filipino nurses that took part in the colonial medical project they occupied a liminal space that both simultaneously validated and invalidated their knowledge. The dilemma of recognition was an issue that all Filipino migrants in the U.S. faced which created a constant state of surveillance within the community abroad. While some crumbled under the pressure of constant policing other Filipinos used it challenge the U.S. colonial project. At infant mortality health conferences, Filipino medical practitioners asserted their own medical authority. Even though these conferences were the same sites where both colonial and native medical practitioners invalidated nurse knowledge, nurses used it to legitimize native authority and the medical authority of women.

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