National Nurses Day and World Red Cross Day with the Home Nursing Series

Today’s post was written by Rachael Brittain and Ken Myers.

In celebration of National Nurses Day and World Red Cross Day, the National Archives would like to commemorate the work and sacrifices nurses and Red Cross staff make to contribute to our nation’s health and safety. We invite you to celebrate their contributions with the American Red Cross collection. The Moving Image and Sound Branch holds a collection of film and video recordings produced by the Red Cross highlighting their work to fulfill their critical areas of service: helping those affected by disasters, supporting members of the military and their families, holding blood drives, health and safety education and training, and international relief and development[1].

The nursing instructor stands next to a boy as he lays in bed.
Still taken from ANRC-ANRC-63020. The Red Cross experimented with televised lessons to accompany the Red Cross Home Nursing Textbook in an effort to train home caretakers on the treatment of the sick and injured.

Today we are watching the Home Nursing Series. These kinescopes[2] represent a significant period of the history of television in the United States, and how this new medium could be used to educate as well as entertain. The Red Cross began offering guides for home instruction in 1908 with the publication of the Red Cross Home Nursing Textbook[3], with subsequent editions revised and published in the following years. This textbook would become the companion to half-hour televised lessons beginning in the 1950s. These lessons were an experiment in helping to train home caretakers in the treatment of the sick and injured in light of shortages of qualified instructors and the necessity to provide mass instruction[4]. These broadcasts taught viewers how to handle simple home emergencies, recognize early signs of illness, provide simple nursing care at home, and keep the family well[5]. Teaching methods included but were not limited to “…thermometer reading, thermometer cleaning, filling a hot water bag, moving a patient, and disposing of contaminated waste”[6]

Clip from ANRC-ANRC-63013

There were several incarnations of this series, the first broadcast from Station KUHT, an educational television station at the University of Houston[7]. This version of the course was not recorded as it appears that KUHT did not have a way to make a kinescope. A kinescope is a recording of a live television broadcast, made by pointing a motion picture film camera at a television screen. In the early years of television, kinescopes were the only means by which television broadcasts could be recorded as videotape would not be introduced until 1956. The kinescopes we have in the Red Cross collection are from the second series of courses that were broadcast from the University of Iowa in the mid-1950’s.

Clip from ANRC-ANRC-63020

When the Home Nursing Series films came to the National Archives, many of the episodes were suffering from vinegar syndrome. Vinegar syndrome is an issue with aging acetate stock that causes the film to warp and deteriorate over time. Without action, the films could have decayed until they were no longer recoverable. Staff in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab here in College Park, Maryland printed new episodes on modern, polyester film stock to preserve them for the future. Many episodes have been scanned in the lab and will soon be available to view in our online catalog:

Home Nursing Series: Magic with Boxes

Home Nursing Series: A Clean Bed

Home Nursing Series: What to Tell the Doctor

Home Nursing Series: Simple Treatments Ordered by the Doctor

Home Nursing Series: Treatments Will Help the Patient Get Well

Home Nursing Series: Home Nursing is a Family Affair

[1] American Red Cross: A Brief History of the American Red Cross 

[2] Wikipedia: Kinescope

[3] Red Cross Home Nursing Textbook

[4] Effectiveness of Television in Teaching Home Nursing by Benjamin Shimberg

[5] Red Cross Home Nursing Textbook

[6] Evaluation of a Health Education Program by Andie L. Knutson and Benjamin Shimberg

[7] Effectiveness of Television in Teaching Home Nursing by Benjamin Shimberg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *