Nursing Under the Old Poor Law in Midland and Eastern England 1780-1834
journal contributionposted on 22.09.2015, 09:45 by Steven A. King
This article uses data drawn from the overseers' accounts and supporting documentation in thirty-six parishes spread over four English counties, to answer three basic questions. First, what was the character, extent, structure, range of activities, and remuneration of the nursing labor force under the Old Poor Law between the late eighteenth century and the implementation of the New Poor Law in the 1830s? Second, were there regional and intra-regional differences in the scale and nature of spending on nursing care for the sick poor? Third, how might one explain such differences? The article suggests that nursing became an increasingly important category of spending for the poor law from the later eighteenth century, but that there were significant variations within and (particularly) between English counties in parochial attitudes toward the provision of nursing for the sick poor. These variations can be explained by applying a matrix of explanatory variables ranging from the minor (differences in how parishes defined "nursing") through to the major (long-standing cultural attitudes toward the responsibility of parishioners to their sick compatriots and the ingrained expectations of the sick poor). The article also throws new light on the hidden aspects of female labor force participation, pointing to the development of professional nursing networks long before the later nineteenth century.