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Les trois soeurs: Trajectories of Rockefeller Foundation fellows at the Lyon Nursing School since the 1920s - Les trajectoires des boursières Rockefeller à l'École d'infirmières de Lyon et du Sud-Est à partir des années 1920.

Hitting the glass ceiling

But there was more. There was something specific to the Lyon school  that drove out  several fellows or travellers  with managing responsibilities.  The trajectory of  Miss  Hélène Mugnier, one of the first French nurses sent to London for training in the summer of 1922, provides the first clues as to the configurations of power that ultimately prevented  the fellows from leaving their mark on the Lyon school.
It was in the Spring of 1923 that Crowell ‘set the wheels in motion’ for Mugnier to  become directress of the Lyon school.  When the school was inaugurated in the Fall, Mugnier was in charge of running the school with the support of Georgette Bauer, the other French nurse sent to London with a fellowship in 1922 (Bauer was hired in Lyon  as assistant-directress). At  Crowell's initiative and despite some reluctance from Mme Motte-Gillet, Mugnier went to England and the United States and Canada in 1926 (and recounted her experience at a  Congress of French nurses). Crowell organized this new fellowship  with the idea that this would strengthen Mugnier's managing capacity and expand her vision. However,  Mugnier eventually resigned in 1929, after a bitter showdown with Professor Lépine and a couple of disease / burn out leaves. A couple of interim directresses took charge until 1933, when a new, permanent directress was hired,  Miss Roberti.

Crowell again embarked on ‘building her up’, one instance of that counseling and mentoring work being the tour of  Rockefeller Foundation supported European nursing centres that  Crowell and Roberti made together in the Spring of 1935. Elizabeth Crowell came out even a  stronger supporter  of Roberti, but the latter resigned from her position in the Fall of 1938. It was not only the directresses who found it hard to stay in charge in Lyon. Marguerite Ducroux, a 1928 fellow and instructor at the school, resigned in May 1929. Crowell was well aware of the difficulties that caused this resignation and showed no hard feelings, offering her help for guidance and advice. Other fellows like Hélène Rioux (a fellow in 1937) or Jeanne Coutagne, who had received a travelling grant in 1934, also resigned.

The reason behind all these difficulties and departures seems to have been  the unwillingness of Dean Lépine, who presided the school Comité Directeur (Executive Board), to yield power to the directresses and staff of the school. Lépine, professor of Medicine and Dean of the Medical School, was in favour of higher standards in nursing education, and this was one of the reasons of his early and committed cooperation with the Rockefeller Foundation in this field since the Great  War. But he did not support the women’s empowerment side of the issue. As suggested by some of his positions as a member of the Hospices Civils Governing body, he was hostile to the idea that women physicians would get supervising responsibilities in hospitals. His ideal of nursing, though it was never formulated explicitly, might have been as mostly the provision of informed, effective and obedient subalterns to physicians in and out of the hospital. In any case, he was not willing to give leeway to the directresses of the school, which school regulations placed very strictly under the control of the Comité Directeur which he chaired. The directress was not even part of this committee.

Alhough Crowell was not a staunch feminist, considering some hints in her diary, she was keen to have nursing schools run by women nurses with a high salary and the power to decide about educational issues. This proved impossible in Lyon, where Lépine did his best to keep the reigns in his hand, while the Comité Directeur, especially its ‘ladies bountiful’ committee led by Léonie Motte Gillet, constantly checked the directresses’ activities. In Lyon, Rockefeller fellows and travellers hit a wall  of male, medical  and class control: while practical aims of increased technical ability were certainly achieved by the provision of fellowships and other means, the social goal of turning nursing into a profession for women  and led by women was not fulfilled. 

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