This Week in History
The Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada
This story was initially published in 2001
On February 1, 1897, Lady Ishbel Aberdeen and the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) revealed to the Press plans to create a "Victorian Order of Home Helpers" to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The organization they founded would play an important role in Canadian health care over the next century.
Wife of the Governor General, Lady Aberdeen quickly won political support for the organization. Ironically, it was doctors who fought the idea - the Ontario Medical Society claimed an order of visiting nurses would be dangerous to the public! This criticism stemmed from both prejudice against women in health care and fear of competition. Only the intervention of Dr. Alfred Worchester, Professor of Hygiene at Harvard University, calmed this opposition, allowing VON to proceed with its objectives. From the outset, VON followed strict training standards to develop superior nurses. VON's six-month training course was the first and only Canadian course on public health and visiting nursing until 1920!
Since the creation of federal welfare programs, governments have assumed health care services recommended and established by organizations like VON. Ironically, this success brought about a change in the type of services VON offered. Now the organization focuses on another pertinent health need: providing quality home care and programs for the elderly.
For its continued role in pioneering and improving Canadian health care programs, the Victorian Order of Nurses was designated as an organization of National Historic Significance in 1997.
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