I love old nursing photographs. Some of them are works of art. This photo from 1933 is an excellent example. The ladies posing in this photo are graduates of the Providence Hospital School of Nursing, Oakland, California. This striking photo chronicles the history of the nursing profession. These women were the original Angels of Mercy of the 20th Century.

It was a time of innocents, but even then, you had to be tough to make it as a nurse. It was a dismal time for nurses, and the beginning of the nursing shortage. According to a letter written by the ANA, through its Executive Committee and sent to hospital directors around the country back in 1933, nurses faced many challenges. There was an over abundance of nurses in the early 1930s. That meant that hospitals could get away with paying meager wages and make nurses work in poor working condition. For example, a new nurse graduating in 1933 in the District of Columbia could look forward to working an average of about ninety days per year, which couldn’t provide a decent living wage. The nurse could also expect to work 16-hour shifts with the occasional potty break if she was lucky. As a way of alleviating these problems, the ANA asked hospitals to limit the number of applicants they allowed into their nursing programs.

Then, mid-decade, things started to shift. Hospitals needed more nurses because fewer people were entering the profession while hospitals were getting bigger and technologically more complex. In addition, nurses started refusing to work long, back breaking shifts in unsavory working conditions, which necessitated the need for more staff. Hospital administrators who were unaccustomed to staffing shortages ignored the problem, and blamed the nurses for the situation. Many factors, including infighting among nurses, fed into the nursing shortage, which was in full bloom by the time War Word II rolled around.

Maybe that’s why this nursing prayer was so popular back in the 1930s:

I want to let go, but I won’t let go. There are battles to fight, by day and night, for God and the right—

And I’ll never let go.

I want to let go, but I won’t let go, I’m sick, ‘tis true, worried and blue, worn through and through—

But I won’t let go.

I want to let go, but I won’t let go. I will never yield! What? Lie down on the field and surrender my shield?

No! I’ll never let go.

I want to let go, but I won’t let go. May this be my song against legions of wrong. O God, keep me strong that I may never let go.