Lavinia Dock Award for Best Book 2006
American Association for the History of Nursing

Unlikely Entrepreneurs

Catholic Sisters and the Hospital Marketplace, 1865—1925

Barbra Mann Wall

Women, Gender, and Health



267 pp. 6x9

$83.95 cloth 978-0-8142-0993-6
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$29.95 paper 978-0-8142-5141-6
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Table of Contents


“Unlikely Entrepreneurs is an important text on a much neglected topic. It is a fascinating story of the women who built the social institutions that we take for granted” —Sioban Nelson, The University of Melbourne

“Unlikely Entrepreneurs is a ground-breaking study that brings together major issues in the history of medicine, women’s history, and immigration history in a unique and highly original manner. This is a highly readable book suitable for anyone interested in the intersection between gender, medicine, and spirituality both past and present.” —Heather Munro Prescott, Central Connecticut State University

In Unlikely Entrepreneurs, Barbra Mann Wall looks at the development of religious hospitals in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries and the entrepreneurial influence Catholic sisters held in this process. When immigrant nuns came to the United States in the late19th century, they encountered a market economy that structured the way they developed their hospitals. Sisters enthusiastically engaged in the market as entrepreneurs, but they used a set of tools and understanding that were counter to the market. Their entrepreneurship was not to expand earnings but rather to advance Catholic spirituality.

Wall places the development of Catholic hospital systems (located in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, and Utah) owned and operated by Catholic sisters within the larger social, economic, and medical history of the time. In the modern health care climate, with the influences of corporations, federal laws, spiraling costs, managed care, and medical practices that rely less on human judgments and more on technological innovations, the “modern” hospital reflects a dim memory of the past. This book will inform future debates on who will provide health care as the sisters depart, how costs will be met, who will receive care, and who will be denied access to health services.

Barbra Mann Wall is assistant professor of nursing at Purdue University.