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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of gender in nurses' ability to organize

Ziegler discusses the role of gender in efforts to organize nurses in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Zeigler, the fact that the nursing profession is largely dominated by women affected their ability to ability to organize, suggesting that a male-dominated profession would face fewer obstacles. Nevertheless, Zeigler is quick to applaud the strong female leadership of the NPO and expresses her admiration for nurses who continued to work "on the inside" while also trying organize.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gemma Ziegler, June 22, 2006. Interview U-0181. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One question I wanted to just ask you. You've already touched on it a good bit, but I wanted to ask it more directly, is for you to talk a little bit more about how you think gender has affected this fight. How do you think this fight might have played out differently if nursing were a male-dominated profession? Or do you think it would have played out differently?
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
This is just my opinion. I think that if it were a male-dominated profession, nurses wouldn't be treated the way they are. But in the fight that we have ensued, it's the female nurses that are the strongest leaders. The male nurses have been helpful, but they haven't been our strongest leaders. We've had some good ones, but not like the women. But I think if it was originally an all-male profession, it wouldn't have gotten to the point that it had. And I don't see it changing much. I really don't think we'll ever have—. Maybe I'll be wrong, but it's just—. And the men who do get in it, they just go right on up the ladder to management or nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner, physician's assistant. They just move on. Very few males on the floors, more than before, but—
SARAH THUESEN:
Not a lot.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
Not a lot. But our strongest leaders have been the women and surprisingly, a lot of older women who've just had it up to here. When I say older, at the time when we were in the fight, they were in their fifties, some in their sixties, feisty, feisty. Well, I can't say. We had some young ones that were pretty feisty too, but usually young ones, a lot of the young ones had little ones at home. A lot of them were single moms and if they lost their job—. And right now, the way the situation is Norton almost has a monopoly here. I think it's like eight out of ten hospitals are owned or operated by Norton. So if you get blacklisted, where are you going to work?
SARAH THUESEN:
You're out of luck.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
You're out of luck. We've had a nurse have a real hard time, so that's a real problem. But I've got to tell you, I have so much admiration for the nurses that worked inside. Everybody would go, "Oh Gemma, you did such good—." I didn't do anything. I was at the office. I have a secure home. I don't have to work. I'm not the one that put my life and my career and everything on the line. It's the ones in the hospital who were taking care of patients and organizing in between, on their lunch breaks, before work, they would go in early and leaflet. Kay and I would go and leaflet also. We'd have to be off the property, but we would go and support them in leafleting. But they could get right inside the property and they pushed it to the limit. They knew their rights and if nothing else, I think we enlightened a lot of people about their rights and about standing up and don't take anything from anybody. Question authority. I never did get put in jail, though. I was always waiting for that. I've never been in jail. I kept telling Kay, Kay's been to jail several times for various causes, but I've never been to jail, not even close.
SARAH THUESEN:
Well, never say never.
GEMMA ZIEGLER:
That's right. There's always this war that I'm willing to go to jail over.