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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.

Lost fellows

A reconstruction of the fellows and travellers’ trajectories shows that many of them evaporated from the school rather quickly. A focus on Marie Isaac, the last Lyon nurse who received a Rockefeller fellowship, epitomizes the record of many Rockefeller fellows at the Lyon school. Miss Isaac received her fellowship in December 1937. Elisabeth Crowell's diary entry about her initial interview with Miss Isaac was enthusiast. Indeed, not only did she belong to one of the most important upper middle class families of the city (and was close to Mme Motte-GIllet, the patron of the school), but she also had obtained the two diplomas of hospital and public health nursing, and received some field work training in social activities. Add the fact she had studied English for 6 years and only lacked spoken practice, and Crowell tagged her 'a find'. Indeed, it was a constant concern of her to attract young women of high social status within the nursing sphere of the Foundation work: they were the ones, whe thought, who could help nursing thrive as  profession and  training.
The Lyon’s school directress, Miss Roberti reported how Isaac was admired by all other pupils during her school years, and that her very high moral qualities were matched by a perfect balance of character and an unimpeachable behaviour. In other terms, she was the perfect ‘subject’, a classical term used in fellowship parlance.  Her fellowship program was to study methods of teaching nursing procedure and ward administration in the US and Canada, before returning to Lyon to install and supervise the long awaited model school ward in the new hospital opened in 1933, across the street from the École d'infirmières et de visiteuses new building, and from the new building of the School of Medicine (also built with a substantial Rockefeller Foundation grant)

Miss Isaac enrolled at the New York Hospital on January 1st 1938, and worked in different departments from surgery to the outpatient department. She subsequently spent a month at the Western Reserve Nursing School in Cleveland, and at the  Department of Public Health Nursing of the University of Toronto, directed by Kathleen Russell. In those years, the Department seems to have been the most important hub for foreign nursing fellows who visited or studied North America, and Russell was much in sync with the Foundation's nursing officers conception of nursing.  Her North American itinerary was rather typical, but some signs suggest she was not considered as an ordinary fellow. Although  Lépine, the president of the Lyon school governing body, asked for an anticipated return date so that he could substitute a departing instructor, Crowell did not cave and Isaac only came back to Lyon in due time at the end of November 1938.

She immediately took charge as  instructor and supervisor of studies. But the model school service she was to head was never set up. Isaac remained on the Foundation's radar, though. In March 1941, although the Foundation had dramatically decreased its activities in European countries now occupied by Nazi Germany,  the governing board of the École d’Infirmières et d’assistantes du service social  de Lyon et du Sud Est proudly reported that Miss Isaac had been invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to be the assistant director of a new nursing school to be opened in Lisbon, Portugal. The sudden death of the current directress of the Lyon school changed these plans, and Miss Isaac stayed in Lyon as directress. The efforts deployed by Crowell between 1922 and 1938 were crowned, so it seemed:  a former fellow, member of the local upper class and trained in North America, was taking the reigns of the school. But it did not happen.
In  July 1942,  Miss Isaac married Doctor Jean Nova and left her nursing career . Not a rare case when you look at the fate of the hundreds of nursing fellows supported by the Rockefeller Foundation between 1915 and 1971. But a blow for the Lyon school.  Not only the ‘gem’ was not able to fulfil the original plan that presided over the granting of her fellowship, but she eventually worked no more than 4 years for the school.
Like Isaac, other fellows at the Lyon school got married or found new positions. The teaching staff of the school was indeed very volatile and had to be reconstituted several times over the years. In different instances, Crowell blamed the reluctance of French girls to leave home as a factor in explaining the difficulty to find suitable French candidates for Rockefeller fellowships. Elsewhere, she also indicted 'the attitude of the average French nurse towards institutional work and above all school work' that made it so difficult to find, prepare and keep an adequate teaching staff (Rockefeller Archive Center, Rockefeller Foundation papers, RG 12.1, Crowell’s diary, 20 November 1933).

But she knew well that other reasons were at play to explain why fellows were routed away from school work. Take Madame Fressenon, for instance, who spent 16 months in the USA and Canada in 1926 and 1927, her program of study  being designed for her to become the director of the new health centre (follow Madame Fressenon's program on Google Maps here). The catholic authorities of Lyon disapproved of her for moral reasons, although it is not known what was the feared impact of this middle-aged widow on the young religious and lay pupils of the nursing school. Or consider Madame Denoël, who was to be appointed directress  in 1931, and balked at management difficulties when faced with the uncertainties about the availability of the new school building. Miss Crowell blamed it on her egotism, and on an excessive sense of  the prerogatives of the Englihs matrons and the US superintendents of training schools: training people into higher standards sometimes turned out to be a sour experience.
Some other fellows were shrewdly misappropriated by local partners of the Foundation, and their fellowship or travel grant seem to have been  a tribute paid by the Foundation to its local allies.  Marthe Jouffray, a school graduate and protégée of Mrs Motte Gillet, was one of these "perks". She received a travelling grant to visit public health activities in the USA:  East Harlem, Providence and Alabama were on her list. On her return, she joined the Fondation Franco-Américaine pour la Sauvegarde de l'Enfance  ( for more, in addition to this newsreel about the Fondation franco-Américaine work,  see Hervé Joly, Les Gillet de Lyon. Fortune d'une grande dynastie industrielle (1838-2015), Genève, Droz, 2015, chapter 13). This child welfare organisation was run by Lépine and Madame Gillet-Motte, the two major forces that made it possible for the school to be set up in 1923.
Miss Jouffray became the director of the Franco-Américaine. Even if the Fondation Franco-Américaine was associated with the school, being its practical field for students being trained as child visitors, Jouffray  was not a  member of the school staff. Marguerite Michel, who had been sent on a fellowship in France and Belgium to become an instructor at the new health centre, followed a similar path after a few months working as instructor in the school. She ended up her career as a director of the Fondation Franco-Américaine in the 1950s. Lépine also appropriated a fellow as a head nurse in his own ward at Hopital Edouard Herriot. Such diversions of resources made it hard for Elizabeth Crowell to feel that the school was slowly building up as an institution.

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