Trouble with "status": competing models of British and North American public health nursing education and practice in British Malaya

Rosemary Wall, Anne Marie Rafferty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Two distinct nursing styles fought for dominance within the nursing world in the interwar period and British Malaya provides a historical laboratory with which to study the varied goals of British and North American nursing. Where the British approach in the field relied upon the notion of “character,” the North American model favored a more techno-scientific approach emphasizing the importance of leadership. The “organic” British approach appears to contrast with that of American colonial policy and that of the American Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in the Philippines, where there was a concerted attempt to lay down a legacy and create “lighthouses” of leadership. Yet, British and North American attitudes were initially similar in two respects: training of local nurses and the feminization of the local nursing workforce. However, the focus of this chapter is the collaboration and conflict between American and British nursing styles in British Malaya in the 1920s and 1930s. The title of this chapter refers to the experience of a nurse, Elizabeth Darville, who was trained in Britain, recruited by the Overseas Nursing Association (ONA), and was inspired by further training in North America before working in Malaya where she experienced a clash of attitudes. The challenges which Darville faced reveal that “Western” nursing and medical leadership styles were not homogenous in colonial contexts. The chapter concludes by considering how lethargic British nursing was in laying down a clear legacy of leadership throughout the period of British rule.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranslating the Body
Subtitle of host publicationMedical Education in Southeast Asia
EditorsHans Pols, C. Michele Thompson, John Harley Warner
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2017


  • British colonial nurses
  • British Malaya
  • training of nurses


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