Theory and Practice from the Medieval to the Modern
David Theodore ‘The Fattest Possible Nurse’: Architecture, Computers, and Post-war Nursing
One way to recount the early interactions between nurses and computers would be to describe how, by interfacing with computers, nurses became nodes in woman-machine systems. In 1962, for instance, the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston began an experiment known as the Hospital Computer Project. In collaboration with the American Hospital Association, the National Institutes of Health, and computer consultants Bolt Beranek and Newman, the MGH began to test ways of using the com- puter to intervene in the hospital’s daily activities. Demonstration areas included an admission and discharge census system, a laboratory reporting system, and a medications ordering system.1 The hospital did not acquire a computer to carry out the project. Instead, the central processing unit was installed ten miles away at Bolt Beranek and Newman’s headquarters in Cambridge, connected to the MGH by Teletype stations. Physicians, however, objected to using the Teletype keyboard and instead the work fell to the nursing corps.2 It was the nurse who asked the questions and punched the cards. A cartoon from a book billed as ‘a primer for the prac- 1 Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratory of Computer Science, Hospital Computer Project: Memorandum Nine: Progress Report (Boston, MA: The Hospital, 1966). Paul Castleman recounts Bolt Beranek and Newman’s participation in ‘Medical Application of Computers at BBN’, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 28/1 (2006), 6–16. 2 The process of computation promulgated strict divisions of labour based on existing categories that saw typing as women’s and thus nurses’ work. On typing, of...
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