Sister Kenny: The Woman Who Challenged the Doctors

Marjorie C. Meehan, MD
JAMA. 1976;235(22):2435. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03260480053040.
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A nurse who, from 1943 to 1951, consistently ranked just after Eleanor Roosevelt as the woman most admired by American women, was at the same time a source of controversy in the medical establishment. Today, her name is seldom mentioned, the emotions she aroused have subsided, and a relatively unbiased biography and evaluation is possible. Victor Cohn has written a fascinating report of this unusual woman.

Elizabeth Kenny, born and brought up in rural Australia, probably had no more than six years of formal schooling and no regular nurse's training. After assisting in a small hospital, she set up as a self-appointed nurse in the bush. She worked hard, demanded no regular fees, and consulted with doctors. In 1911 she saw her first poliomyelitis cases. When she telegraphed the symptoms to her favorite doctor, he replied, "Infantile paralysis. No known treatment. Do the best you can with the symptoms presenting


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