Religion, modernity and foreign nurses in Iceland 1896-1930

Kristin Björnsdóttir*, Susanne Malchau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper describes the influence of foreign nurses upon the development of modern healthcare services and the nursing profession in Iceland in the first three decades of the twentieth century. It represents a case study of how new ideas, traditions and practices migrated between countries and cultures in the twentieth century. Icelandic society was, at that time, still premodern in many ways. Healthcare institutions were almost nonexistent and the means of production were undeveloped. It was into this context that the idea of nursing as a professional activity was introduced. Groups of nurses, the Catholic Sisters of St Joseph of Chambéry and secular nurses, mainly from Denmark, came to the country to organize and provide healthcare services, of which nursing was of central importance. These groups were diasporas, in that they brought traditions and practices from other cultures. The Sisters of StJoseph built, owned and ran the first modern hospital in the country. The Danish nurses introduced nursing as a specialized field of work, in leprosy and tuberculosis nursing and by initiating public health nursing services. They were instrumental in promoting education as an important condition to becoming a nurse, and the development of an Icelandic nursing profession. These nurses were generally respected by the Icelandic people for their contributions and were received with interest and appreciation. The healthcare services introduced by these different groups of nurses reflected modern ways of living and a commitment to professionalism, which involved providing assistance to patients based on the best knowledge available and a philosophy of respect and care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-175
Number of pages10
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004

Other keywords

  • Danish nurses
  • Diasporas
  • Modernity
  • Nursing in Iceland
  • Religion
  • Sisters of St Joseph


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