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Pelzer Fellowship Recipient Laurel Sanders


Laurel Sanders was named by the Graduate College as the recipient of the Louis Pelzer Fellowship Award in the area of American History for the Fall 2019 semester.  This award was made possible by Mildred Pelzer Lynch who bequeathed funds to establish this fellowship in honor of Louis Pelzer who was a historian and professor at the University of Iowa.

This fellowship gives Laurel a semester free of teaching to focus on her research. Currently she is writing a chapter of her dissertation on the policies behind the recruitment of field nurses, the reasons that the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) hired few Native women for this position, and the effects of those policies on the public health program.  Laurel’s full dissertation, "Knowledge of Every Home:" Public Health Nursing in Native American Communities, 1924-1955”, looks at the work of Native nurses employed with the OIA and deployed to Native communities across the United States. Historical studies of health interventions in Native communities have focused on white doctors and nurses and stressed the uneven power dynamics that ruled interactions between these individuals as representatives of the U.S. government and the patients they observed and treated in their practice. By focusing on the Native nurses within the public health service, this work complicates the narrative of colonial power to show the ways in which patients sometimes used the familiar and personal relationships that nurses are part of for non-personal health outcomes. It will also demonstrate the often complicated and conflicting ways in which Native nurses saw themselves and the people around them.

Taking advantage of time early this semester to travel for research, Laurel worked at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis to study the records of nurses who worked in the Office of Indian Affairs' "field nurse" or public health nursing program.  She was specifically looking for records of field nurses who were Native American.  Then in late September, she gave a presentation at the American Association for the History of Nursing conference in Dallas on the experiences of those field nurses entitled: "'Knowledge of Every Home:' Native American Field Nurses in the 1920s and 30s."  Next semester, Laurel will be teaching an undergraduate course on Nursing and Nurses in American History, a course that she was awarded the Henry Horwitz prize for best graduate student syllabus in the history department for 2018.

Pictured below:  Laurel Sanders (far left) at the American Association for the History of Nursing conference in Dallas