“Generally speaking, the social status of the lay nurse in Czechoslovakia is little better than that of a servant. It is taken for granted that her morals are easy. Her wages are scanty, her vacations are insufficient, in some cases non-existent. She accepts living conditions in the hospitals where she works, that are unbelievably bad.”
Frances Elisabeth Crowell, 1922, from Memorandum re: Study of Sick Nursing and Health Visiting in Czechoslovakia
Frances Elisabeth Crowell was a staff member of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and a dedicated nurse and social worker who devoted much of her life to the task of improving nursing education and standards.
Crowell completed her nursing training in Chicago in 1895. After graduation she moved to Florida, where she served as superintendent and part owner of the Pensacola Infirmary. At the Infirmary, later renamed St. Anthony’s Hospital, Crowell opened a school to train nurses.
Ten years later, Crowell relocated to New York to study social work at the New York School of Philanthropy. In 1906 she began working as a special investigator with the Association of Neighborhood Workers, producing research on the state of midwifery and its role among New York women, especially immigrant populations. She continued to compile research and produce significant studies on this topic while simultaneously serving as Executive Secretary of the Association of Tuberculosis Clinics in New York.
In 1917 Crowell devoted herself more fully to the eradication of tuberculosis when she joined the International Health Division (IHD) of the RF and began working for its Commission for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in France. As part of the Commission, Crowell trained medical personnel and organized dispensaries in order to help contain the tuberculosis epidemic in post-war France. Crowell remained in France until 1923, when she joined the Division of Studies Program of the RF. The new appointment allowed Crowell to remain in Europe, and it greatly expanded her influence, as she was charged with developing programs in nursing education throughout the continent.
Crowell left the RF in 1941 and spent her remaining years in Italy. Although retired, she advised the American Red Cross in Italy during World War II. Crowell died in 1950 and was laid to rest in Santa Margherita, Italy, along the Mediterranean coast.
Elizabeth Crowell’s officer's diaries are digitized and can be accessed through the Rockefeller Archive Center's (RAC) online collections. Additional documents, including her numerous reports commenting on the state of nursing across Europe in the 1920s, can be accessed at the RAC.