Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This paper, Crossing the Gender Barrier - a History of Male Nurses in Manitoba, Canada, will examine the role of men in a female-dominated profession. There is a distinct lack of historical writing on male nurses. Nursing historiography has generally focused on the women who constitute the majority of nurses. Indeed, much of the literature comes from within the nursing profession and the field of sociology, most of which lack an historical emphasis.

The development of the modem healthcare system is important to this work as it illustrates the evolution of the gender constructs that determined that physicians were male and nurses were female. Men were essentially absent from the profession until after the Second World War when they were heralded as a solution to the nursing shortage that had developed during the war years. Although previous restrictions limiting their access to nurses training programs diminished, few men chose a nursing career. It was not until the 1960’s and 1970’s that men, albeit in small numbers, began to train as nurses.

In accordance with the growing body of literature on nursing history, which reflects new studies in gender analysis, this thesis will examine the role of men in nursing, particularly that “pioneer generation” of male nurses who chose a nursing career in the 1960’s and 1970’s when there were few male nurses. To examine the experiences of these men a variety of methods will be employed. Secondary literature, primarily from within nursing and sociology, which has examined the role of men in nursing will also be tested. This thesis also will utilize traditional source materials such as nursing school records, school yearbooks, and newspaper sources. In order to balance these sources, oral histories with several of the male nurses who trained in or worked at the St. B m face General Hospital School of Nursing in Winnipeg, Canada, in the 1960’s and 1970’s will be used to examine the motivations of these men in their choice of a nursing career and their experiences as minority members of a female-dominated occupation.

This research demonstrates that these men chose their career primarily because they enjoyed working with people and wanted to help others. In addition to this altruistic motivation, there is further evidence that they considered nursing to be a well-respected occupation, which offered significant career opportunity. There were few male nurses at the time, yet these men reported good relationships with their female colleagues, patients, and physicians. Although these men were challenging certain gender constructs, it is evident that th~y were subject to societal definitions of masculinity - notably the need for breadwinner wages. Without exception these men were all very successful in their professional lives, achieving positions in administration, education, and labor relations. Despite their historical absence from nursing, as men gain a greater presence in the profession, they are increasingly assuming positions of power and prestige.