Cora Simpson: Missionary Nurse in China

Profiles in Nursing

Cora Simpson: Missionary Nurse in China

She established a nursing school in Foochow, China in 1907

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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When Cora Simpson first went to China as a missionary, the country did not even have a word for nurse. The closest equivalent was the word kanhu, which meant something like “orderly in charge of watching.”
    Nonetheless, Simpson saw a country in desperate need of nurses. She wrote of that need in an article in The American Journal of Nursing in 1913, deploring conditions that at the time included “no health supervision or inspection, no health laws for isolation or contagion [and] no sewer systems.”
    Simpson set out to do something about the lack of nurses, motivated by a profound sense of religious commitment to individual patients and by a deepening and abiding love of the Chinese nation.

New World, New Word
Simpson’s upbringing prepared her rise to challenges of all sorts: In her youth, she and her family traveled by covered wagon from Nebraska to Oregon and back. In 1905, she graduated from the Methodist Hospital in Omaha, Neb. Two years later, the Woman’s Board of the Methodist Episcopal Mission of the United States chose her as the first fully qualified American nurse to go to China.
    When Simpson arrived, China generally regarded nurses, especially foreigners, as disreputable and unwanted. Great distances and heavy workloads left many missionary nurses isolated in different parts of the country. Not to be deterred, Simpson promptly set about organizing the Nurses Association of China (NAC), which prospered despite almost unimaginable demands and difficulties.
    The first Chinese nursing schools were established at the NAC’s first national conference in 1914. In that same year, a new word was coined to describe nurses: hushi, meaning a professionally educated person specializing in patient care. By 1929, the NAC began publishing its own journal, Quarterly Journal for Chinese Nurses.

From Leprosy to Cholera
Simpson firmly believed that the American model of nursing was universal and could with minor adjustments be made to work in her adopted land. She insisted on high standards, no matter how long the process took.
    Her work was ceaseless. Not only did she learn the language and use it to train as many Chinese nurses as possible, she worked constantly to find more nurses willing to leave the comforts of America to travel to a land that had an estimated 1 million people for every medical professional. She worked hard to promote talented local nurses, recognizing that the Chinese would eventually be in charge of their own institutions.
    The nursing school most associated with Simpson was the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing at Magaw Memorial Hospital in Fuzhou (Foochow), now Fujian Medical University Union Hospital. Adopting a flexible approach, she organized special services for lepers, as well as public health campaigns for infants, schools and relief work. In 1919, her facility was also chosen as a center for cholera relief work.

The Path to Self Sufficiency
Simpson published her memoir, A Joy Ride Through China, for the NAC in 1927, donating all proceeds to the organization, for which she continued to work for several decades.
    Although China experienced tremendous political turmoil throughout Simpson’s time there, the situation became untenable during World War II. She was one of the last Westerners to leave Nanjing, relocating to Chongqing (Chungking) until she was ordered to leave the country in 1944.
    After the war ended, Simpson’s mission board refused to allow her to return to China due to her age. Instead, she remained in the United States, often giving talks on her experiences. In October 1947, the NAC honored her with the title of general secretary emeritus.
    Her greatest legacy, however, was that by the time she returned to the U.S., China had 14,000 fully trained nurses.  

Elizabeth Hanink is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

Photo:  Pictured is the first graduating class of the Florence Nightingale Training Academy in Foochow, China. Cora Simpson (center) learned Mandarin in order to train local nurses. At the time she arrived, a lack of public sanitation contributed to outbreaks of cholera. Courtesy American Journal of Nursing, www.jstor.org. 

 

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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