Louise Zabriskie, a Nurse Not Paralyzed By the Past

Profiles in Nursing

Louise Zabriskie, a Nurse Not Paralyzed By the Past

Pioneering prenatal care to young mothers in the '20s and '30s

By Elizabeth Hanink, Rn, BSN, PHN
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It is not just as a nurse that Louise Zabriskie had an impact. Yes, she was recognized in her field (maternal child health), as the author of textbooks, and as a founder of community organizations. But, what was so notable was that she accomplished all this while living as a quadriplegic.

She did it without self-pity and with a self-effacement and determination that were truly remarkable. When explaining to an interviewer why she was wearing a stiff plaster collar around her neck, with characteristic understatement she said, ”I have to wear this once in a while. I broke my neck 20 years ago and occasionally I have trouble.”

Ms. Zabriskie graduated from the New York Hospital School of Nursing in 1913 and then worked as a public health nurse and as a supervisor at the New York Lying-In Hospital. In 1922, a traffic accident left her unable to walk, but not unable to work.  During her slow recovery, she gathered nurses around her hospital bed, counseling and lecturing as she always had.

Later, after returning home and when she was able to tolerate a short car trip, she resumed her regular role as field director of the Maternity Center Association. During this time period, the most prevalent cause of death for women age 15 to 45 was a complication related to pregnancy, so a pioneering effort was unleashed by wealthy women to bring prenatal care to the women of New York City and nurses would seek out any woman in the community who was pregnant and ensure that she received professional care regardless of ability to pay.

“The nurse is urged to so conduct her clinic as to assure privacy to each patient examined,” she said, “and the same treatment which the patient would receive if she were the only patient in the office of one of our best obstetricians.”

Their efforts proved that the appalling infant mortality rates — more than 100,000 every year was common back then — could improve through intensive care of the mother before she gave birth.

Eventually Ms. Zabriskie fulfilled her own dream, a consultation service that would offer training courses for all young parents. In 1939, she founded the Maternity Consultation Service and remained as director for 18 years. The classes were free and open to everyone, including prospective fathers. The service also trained high school students to become effective helpers for their mothers and capable mothers themselves.

Ms. Zabriskie wrote two books that became classics. The first, Nurses’ Handbook of Obstetrics, appeared in 1929 and ultimately had nine editions. Mother and Baby Care in Pictures, first published in 1935, also went to several editions, including one in Spanish.

She wrote a regular column for My Baby magazine, and she appeared in Parents magazine and the American Journal of Nursing, writing down-to-earth articles like “The Square Diaper” and “Baby’s First Food.”

Ms. Zabriskie also won success as a lecturer. According to Doris DeVincenzo, who wrote her entry in the biographical dictionary American Nursing, she always appeared without attendants or evidence of other support. She would arrive early and be in position before time.

After being thanked by one of her listeners, an expectant father, she said, “The most thrilling thing in the world is an assurance like that, which makes you certain you are being helpful to these fine young people.”  

Elizabeth Hanink RN, BSN, PHN, is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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