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date: 14 July 2020

Dock, Lavinia Lloydfree

(26 February 1858–17 April 1956)
  • Kathryn Kish Sklar

Dock, Lavinia Lloyd (26 February 1858–17 April 1956), nurse, suffragist, and social reformer, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Gilliard Dock and Lavinia Lloyd Bombaugh, landlords. Dock, who later came to think of herself as a feminist, received what she called an “oldfashioned and conventional” education at a local female academy. Her life was basically carefree until her mother died when Dock was eighteen, leaving her and her older sister with the responsibility of raising their four siblings.

Financially independent—she and her siblings each derived an income from land their parents had inherited—Dock was inspired by an article in Century magazine about the Training School for Nurses at Bellevue Hospital in New York, enrolling there in 1884 and graduating in 1886. In the spring of 1889 she helped Clara Barton aid the victims of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood. She established herself as a leader in the nursing field with the publication of Textbook for Materia Medica for Nurses (1890); the first manual of drugs for nurses, it served as the standard nursing textbook for a generation. In 1890 Isabel Hampton, who advocated improvements in the education of nurses and standardization in nursing practices, appointed Dock assistant superintendent of nurses at the new Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the 1893 international conference on hospitals held during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Dock argued that nurses needed their own profession in order to buttress their authority within the practice of medicine. Toward that end Dock organized and became secretary of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools in 1893 and that same year also formed the Nurses Associated Alumnae (later the American Nurses Association), which was modeled after the American Medical Association.

In 1896 Dock joined the community of women living at Lillian Wald’s Nurses Settlement on Henry Street in New York City’s Lower East Side. “I never began to think until I went to Henry Street and lived with Miss Wald,” Dock later said. There she formed what she later called “a strong sympathy with oppressed classes, a lively sense of justice and a keen love of … ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty.’ ” For twenty years Dock worked with other public health nurses to provide preventive care and health education to poor immigrants. Their activities made these nurses the chief authorities on immigrant health and public health reform in New York City.

At the International Council of Women held in London in 1899, Dock and Ethel Gordon Fenwick, leader of British nurses, founded the International Council of Nurses, of which Dock became secretary. This organization linked nurses from around the world toward the goal of improving public health. Among nurses she was known as the editor of the “Foreign Department” of the American Journal of Nursing, a column through which she dispensed information on the practice and status of nursing and of public health worldwide. With Adelaide Nutting, her former student at Hopkins, Dock wrote the two-volume History of Nursing (1907; revised and two volumes added, 1912). She also helped to organize the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908.

The innovative atmosphere at Henry Street led Dock to battle the sexual double standard for men and women. In Hygiene and Morality (1911) she opposed state regulation of prostitution and was among the first publicly to advocate the treatment of venereal disease. In 1907, however, her political allegiance began to shift from nursing to suffrage as the basis of her reform activism. That year she joined the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later the Women’s Political Union), recently founded by American activist Harriot Stanton Blatch who based the league on the activities of British suffragists. By 1915 this shift had introduced strains in her relationship with Henry Street reformers, who, being leaders in the mainstream suffrage movement, distanced themselves from Stanton’s aggressive style. The rift between Dock and her Henry Street friends never healed. In 1917 Dock moved to Washington, D.C., and became a member of Alice Paul’s advisory council for the National Woman’s Party. She picketed the White House and was jailed (briefly) three times that year for militant suffrage activities. Dock advocated the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1921.

Dock, who became increasingly deaf in her later years, retired to her home in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, in 1922 and was joined by her four sisters, all of whom were single. In 1947 she was honored for her achievements at the International Council of Nurses convention. She died in a hospital in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, after having broken a hip in a fall.


Dock’s papers can be found at the Library of Congress, the Pennsylvania State Archives at Harrisburg, the Lillian Wald Papers at Columbia University, and (available on microfilm) the New York Public Library. See also the Adelaide Nutting Papers, Teachers College, Columbia University; the Nursing History Archives, Boston University (which include valuable clippings by and about Dock from the British Journal of Nursing); the Leonora O’Reilly Papers at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; and oral history interviews with Isabel M. Stewart in the Oral History Collection, Columbia University, and with Alice Paul in the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. Dock’s other publications include Short Papers on Nursing Subjects (1900) and The History of American Red Cross Nursing (1922). For biographical information, see her “Self-Portrait” of 1932, published in Nursing Outlook, Jan. 1977; Mary M. Roberts, American Nursing: History and Interpretation (1954); and obituaries in the American Journal of Nursing 57 (May 1956), and the New York Times, 18 Apr. 1956.