The Great Depression: era of unemployment in nursing


Nursing students at Tacoma General

In the early 1930’s, WSGNA Districts reported more nurses, fewer cases and shorter private duty nursing calls. As the situation worsened, nurses turned to other lines of work to earn a living. An “over-production” of nurses and high unemployment led to higher educational requirements, shorter working hours (the 8-hour work day begins!) and general duty staff nursing in hospitals - all of which were viewed as potential solutions to these problems. Toward the end of the decade, advances in education, new procedures in medicine and openings of new occupational fields for nurses seemed to indicate a brighter future for nursing.


Due to the steadily growing problem of unemployment during the Great Depression, WSGNA districts concentrate their efforts on fund-raising projects to help their members who were on relief.


The University of Washington begins offering supervisory courses at Harborview Hospital. Many nurses become qualified for supervisory and administrative positions.


King County reports that private duty nurses pay averages only $25 per month. In Tacoma, the District collects $394 for an unemployment fund to provide one week’s work for 16 nurses at Pierce County Hospital.


A WSGNA-sponsored insurance program is launched, called the “Nurses Protective Policy.” It is designed to protect the earning ability of nurses during illness and accidents.


WSGNA achieves successful passage of an amendment to the Nurse Practice Act that called for the appointment of a “supervisor “of Nursing Schools to assure the quality of nursing education.


ANA and WSGNA both adopt an 8-hour day resolution.


Hospitals and advances in medicine create a growing demand for more psychiatric and general duty staff nurses.


A scholarship fund is established as a memorial to May S. Loomis, first president of WSNA. The fund, still available to members through the Washington State Nurses Foundation, is specified to be used for loans to graduate nurses for further education.


The first General Duty Nurse Standards of Employment are approved by WSNA’s Board and a resolution is adopted that discourages “affiliation of our members with trade unions or other similar organizations.”


The model of “Team” nursing assignments begins with graduate nurses and practical nurses as the “team.”


The WSGNA Legislative Committee is requested to study the possibility of licensing practical nurses.