Movie review: Sister Kenney – Could you really not work as a nurse if you were married?


Recovering slowly from a recent nasty bout with pneumonia, I’ve just been treating myself to reading and movies. Surprised to notice what looked like a really good movie on television today called Sister Kenney. I’m thinking, can I be turning on the TV so early in the morning? Yeah, desperate times…

Rosalind Russell stars in this 1946 story of a nurse who intuitively developed a way to treat polio that brought many children back to health–without horrible casts and splints and braces. Fascinating story of how the medical establishment censured her, fought her clinics, and generally made her life miserable for 35 years. But people kept bringing her their kids, so her reputation grew. One doctor friend supported her all the way, and eventually a few orthopedic docs in Minnesota began to listen to her.

Screenshot of Rosalind Russell from the traile...

Image via Wikipedia

Fascinating tidbit. According to the movie, she couldn’t get married, because if she did she would no longer be allowed to practice nursing. I tried looking this up—didn’t know if this was a law or just an accepted convention of society. Apparently a very tiny percentage (like less than 7%) of married women worked before WWII. So it may have been that she was simply expected to stop working if she got married. But anyway she chose her work helping children over marriage to this man who loved her. What I can’t figure out is why he just went away instead of staying to spend their lives together. Probably because back then if you weren’t married you also didn’t get to have sex—unless you were a loose woman.

Great story. Great distillation of the struggles that women have had to go through to achieve their goals/dreams. Though it takes a few liberties with the facts, the movie adheres to the spirit of Sister Kenney’s life.  The star Rosalind Russell actually became friends with the woman herself when her niece was treated with the Kenney treatments. Here’s the actual history.

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