Hands of Mercy: Methods of Healing Practice by Frontier Nuns

Author(s): Breanna M Wilbanks

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Constructing Bodies and Persons: Health and Medicine in Historic Social Context" session, at the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology.

In the 19th century, nuns of the Sisters of Mercy traveled to Fort Smith, Arkansas, the border of the U.S. and Indian Territory, to establish a convent and school for the burgeoning frontier town. With an ever-growing population and few doctors to meet the medical demands of the people, the Sisters served as healthcare providers, giving aid to those who were destitute and in need. As immigrant women from Ireland who were given no formal medical training, they utilized a comprehension of medicine that went beyond that of conventional doctors of the time. The Sisters employed a layered understanding of medicine that combined traditional knowledge and experience with tools available from religious and local sources, creating a system of healthcare that crossed the boundaries of prevailing medical practices. These pioneering women served both their "divine" mission and community, forging a practice marked by their ethnic, religious, and gendered identities. 

Cite this Record

Hands of Mercy: Methods of Healing Practice by Frontier Nuns. Breanna M Wilbanks. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, St. Charles, MO. 2019 ( tDAR id: 448974)


Temporal Keywords
19th Century

Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 131