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In Session: Sickness, State, and Subjectivity in Modern Japan
4: Mediators of Care: School Nurses and Health Education in Interwar Japan
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Chicago, United States
From the 1920s onward, nurses became common fixtures in elementary and middle schools throughout the burgeoning Japanese empire. With duties ranging from assisting school doctors in evaluating the growth and physical development of children to leading lectures on personal hygiene, nurses were on the front line of health education. In most scholarship, school nurses are inextricably linked to state-led movement of self-strengthening the polity in the service of mobilization efforts during the interwar years. However, these narratives disregard these women as informed actors who participated in a wide-ranging network of international and domestic discourse about health and healthcare regimes. Through an analysis of nursing education and discourse, it is possible to re-center the narrative of school nursing – and nursing more broadly – onto the women who performed the labor.
This paper examines journals and other scholarly publications produced by and for Japanese nurses, nursing textbooks centered on childhood care, and correspondence between nurses (such as those between branches of the Red Cross). Through these sources, I show how school nurses considered themselves negotiators between the needs of the state, of which they were an indelible part, and their sense of duty towards public health as a goal in its own right. In navigating this relationship, school nurses were – and indeed continue to be – mediators of care.