Lys­tra Eg­gert Gret­ter: Bay­field’s Pi­o­neer Nurse and Pub­lic Health Ed­u­ca­tor

The Goderich Signal-Star - - News -

When she was in­ducted into the Michi­gan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2004, she was com­pared to Clara Bar­ton, one of the founders of the Amer­i­can Red Cross. Her ‘tire­less’ ef­forts in pro­mot­ing nurs­ing as a re­spectable pro­fes­sion have been widely rec­og­nized across her adopted coun­try. How­ever, few know that she was a Huron County na­tive by birth.

Lys­tra El­iz­a­beth Eg­gert was born in Bay­field some­time in Septem­ber 1858. Spe­cific de­tails re­gard­ing her fam­ily’s early years in Canada are sketchy. What is known is that her Swiss-born doc­tor was one of the vil­lage physi­cians. Her mother was born in Canada of Dutch-de­scent. A ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was a Men­non­ite Bishop who mi­grated to the United States and then to Canada in the early nine­teenth cen­tury.

She in­her­ited from her fa­ther a pas­sion for medicine and her mother a benev­o­lent Chris­tian spir­i­tu­al­ity that char­ac­ter­ized her adult life. Upon the out­break of the Amer­i­can Civil War, Dr. Eg­gert en­listed as a sur­geon in the Union Army. The fam­ily re­mained in Bay­field where Lys­tra be­gan her pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. In 1866, the rest of the fam­ily moved to Greens­boro, North Carolina. Lys­tra con­tin­ued her ed­u­ca­tion in south­ern pri­vate schools.

At age 19, Lys­tra mar­ried John Bir­ney Gret­ter in 1877. A vet­eran of Gen­eral Robert E. Lee’s Con­fed­er­ate army, her 45-year-old hus­band was a Vir­ginian who listed his oc­cu­pa­tion as Deputy U.S. Mar­shall in the 1880 cen­sus. The same cen­sus rather quaintly noted Lys­tra as ‘keep­ing house.’ It seemed Lys­tra Gret­ter could look for­ward to a se­cure life of mid­dle class south­ern gen­til­ity.

Un­for­tu­nately, in 1884, tragedy struck as her hus­band died sud­denly when she was 26 leav­ing her with a three-year-old daugh­ter. Her fa­ther seems to have also passed away by this time as to­gether with her mother and sis­ter, Gret­ter moved to Buf­falo, New York and en­rolled in the Buf­falo Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal Train­ing School for Nurses in 1886.

As a sin­gle mother re­turn­ing to school, she was well ahead of her time. She grad­u­ated with hon­ours in 1888 and was im­me­di­ately ap­pointed Prin­ci­pal of the Far­rand Train­ing School for Nurses at Harper Hos­pi­tal, Detroit in 1889. Gret­ter held the po­si­tion of Nurs­ing School Su­per­in­ten­dent un­til 1907.

De­spite her ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ex­pe­ri­ence, Gret­ter ini­ti­ated sweep­ing that would rev­o­lu­tion­ize nurs­ing train­ing. Rather than over­work ex­hausted women in 12-15 hour shifts that com­prised more than 73-hours or more per week, the Far­rand School was the first school to in­sti­tute the eight-hour shift.

The re­duc­tion in floor hours was made up for by ex­tend­ing the nurs­ing train­ing sys­tem from one to two, and, in 1896, to three years. Gret­ter ar­gued that, “a part of the ex­tra time thus af­forded Nurses will be spent in study and out­door recre­ation.”

The Far­rand School un­der Gret­ter’s su­per­vi­sion be­came a model for nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion. A Gret­ter bi­og­ra­pher, He­len Man­son, R.N. noted that nurs­ing be­came less an ap­pren­tice­ship and more of a pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tion un­der her di­rec­tion.

Gret­ter es­tab­lished the Vis­it­ing Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion that en­cour­aged nurses to visit ma­jor hos­pi­tals to study the lat­est in health care in­no­va­tion. A Cana­dian whiskey dis­tiller, Hi­ram Walker, rec­og­nized Gret­ter’s re­forms in nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion by leav­ing a siz­able be­quest of $20 000 to the Far­rand School.

In­cred­i­bly, there were few train­ing man­u­als for nurses. Gret­ter is be­lieved to have writ­ten the first stan­dard­ized text­book for nurs­ing train­ing. She also formed a pro­fes­sional li­brary and en­cour­aged to stu­dents to re­main cur­rent in the lat­est nurs­ing pro­ce­dures. The nov­elty of her nurses’ li­brary at­tracted dona­tions from across the con­ti­nent. Dur­ing the Span­ish Amer­i­can War, Gret­ter re­cruited qual­i­fied nurses to staff the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion Hos­pi­tal Corps. Dr. Anita McGee, the hos­pi­tal’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, thanked Gret­ter for her “valu­able as­sis­tance in the care­ful se­lec­tion of grad­u­ate nurses” and fur­ther paid trib­ute to Gret­ter’s nurs­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by ex­press­ing her be­lief that the train­ing the nurses re­ceived was ‘so ex­cel­lent’ that it “has dis­tinctly ad­vanced the credit of the schools.”

In­deed, in 1909, Michi­gan be­came only the sec­ond state, af­ter New York, that re­quired the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of prac­tic­ing nurses.

In 1908, Gret­ter was ap­pointed the Di­rec­tor of the Detroit Vis­it­ing Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion where she turned her at­ten­tion to broader so­cial as well as health care is­sues. Un­der her lead­er­ship, she es­tab­lished tu­ber­cu­lo­sis hos­pi­tals, lob­bied for in-home nurs­ing care and be­came a vo­cal pub­lic health ad­vo­cate for Detroit’s bur­geon­ing poor and im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion. She also suc­cess­fully in­tro­duced the first state wide health in­spec­tions of school chil­dren and a free ma­ter­nity/in­fant care clinic in Detroit.

One of the bar­ri­ers to im­prov­ing the sta­tus of nurs­ing as a pro­fes­sion was that it was con­sid­ered ‘women’s work’ and, there­fore, of lit­tle value. Gret­ter’s Nurs­ing As­so­ci­a­tion formed a strong al­liance with the suf­fragettes in fight­ing for women’s right to vote. With­out po­lit­i­cal power, Gret­ter ar­gued, nurs­ing would never be­come a ‘re­spectable’ pro­fes­sion.

One of Gret­ter’s most en­dur­ing le­ga­cies was “The Florence Nightin­gale Pledge”. Although Gret­ter mod­estly cred­ited the work of a com­mit­tee over which she presided over for its creation, Gret­ter bi­og­ra­phers claim that she was “the mov­ing spirit be­hind the idea” for the pledge.

Like the physi­cian’s Hip­po­cratic Oath ‘The Nightin­gale Pledge’ was a state­ment of the ethics and prin­ci­ples of the nurs­ing pro­fes­sion. In a 1935 re­vi­sion to the pledge, Gret­ter widened the role of the nurse by in­clud­ing an oath to be­come a ‘mis­sioner of health’ ded­i­cated to the ad­vance­ment of ‘hu­man wel­fare.’

Un­til the 1970’s, this pledge to “ab­stain from what­ever is dele­te­ri­ous and mis­chievous’ and to ”zeal­ously seek to nurse those who are ill wher­ever they may be and when­ever they are in need“was solemnly re­cited at grad­u­a­tion or ‘Pin­ning’ cer­e­monies across North Amer­ica.

In re­cent decades, the pledge has ei­ther been dropped or sub­stan­tially al­tered to ad­here to po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

In ad­di­tion to help­ing cre­ate the Amer­i­can Red Cross Nurs­ing Ser­vice in two world wars, Gret­ter was re­mained the Ma­tron of the Detroit Vis­it­ing Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion un­til her death in Grosse Pointe in 1951.

Lys­tra Eg­gert Gret­ter lit­er­ally de­fined mod­ern nurs­ing as a pro­fes­sion of noble prin­ci­ples and high stan­dards of ed­u­ca­tion.

Gret­ter her­self said that she be­lieved “im­proved ed­u­ca­tion, sub­li­mated by spir­i­tual gifts and graces, will de­velop nurs­ing into a wider, more help­ful min­is­tra­tion pat­terned af­ter the ex­am­ple of Him who went about do­ing good.”

It is in­ter­est­ing to spec­u­late that she learned her fa­ther’s pas­sion for medicine and her mother’s spir­i­tu­al­ity as a young girl in Bay­field.

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