Book of the Week: “Enlightened Charity”

Martha M. Libster, Ph.D., R.N., and Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Enligthtened Charity: The Holistic Nursing Care, Education, and Advices Concerning the Sick of Sr. Mathilda Coskery (1799-1870). (Golden Apple Publications: 2009). 528 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0975501825.

From the publisher: “Enligthened Charity is a lost history important to the identity of professional American nurses.  Throughout history nurses have been innovators in health reform creating models of safe and accessible health care for all.  Enlightened Charity documents the peioneering work of American Sisters of Charity nurses in the 19th century who sustained a centuries-old holistic healing tradition of their French predecessors in caring for the poor, sick, and mentally ill. Martha Matthews Libster and Sr. Betty Ann McNeil give us an intimate portrait of one sister in particular, Sister-Nurse Matilda Coskery, who during her 39-year nursing career from 1831 until 1870, partnered with medical consultants to create hospitals, clinical training programs for medical students, treatment programs, and standards of nursing care which earned her the distinction by physicians, nurses, and the public as an “oracle” in nursing care, particularly of the mentally ill.  Sister Matilda documented her expertise in a textbook for her students which she entitled “Advices concerning the Sick.”  This masterful treatise on the science and the ‘blessed art’ of nursing pre-dating Notes on Nursing by Florence Nightingale is published here in its entirety for the first time in the history of American nursing with commentary by the authors.  In its impeccable scholarship, Enlightened Charity repeals the myths about early nurses and documents why Sister Matilda and the Sisters of Charity were models for professional nursing in the nineteenth century.  The Sisters’ values of humility, simplicity, and charity and their intentional devotion to the spiritual as well as the physical needs of patients propelled them into a judicious, science-based care that won them national and international acclaim-though they did not seek it…”

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