Kenny was born in rural Australia to Mary and Michael Kenny in 1880. Her early education was a mix of homeschooling and structured before she broke her wrist at 17. That’s when she met her future mentor Aeneas McDonnell and discovered her love of medicine while reading through McDonnell’s books but in no way was there a direct line from this to Kenny being a master nurse.
Instead, she moved through a variety of careers from Sunday school teacher to agricultural broker, to working at a midwife’s cottage. That’s where she started to learn the nursing craft. After earning a recommendation, she moved back ‘home’ to Nobby and became a ‘Bush Nurse’.
‘Bush nursing’ was the general term given to the push by Lady Rachel Dudley in Tasmania to provide trained nursing in remote areas. 51 centers opened focused on maternal and child health, with just a tinge of ‘soft eugenics’ as was common at the time with white communities as they made the first contact with previously isolated communities.
So in 1910, Kenny had just treated her first case and had her patient recover. Her next step was to open and operate a cottage hospital for just that purpose until WW1. At that point, she sold her hospital and enlisted, traveling to England to join the Australian Army Nursing Service. Since she wasn’t a trained/certified nurse, she used a letter from her mentor McDonnell and after a month-long trial, she was accepted. She served on ships returning troops to Australia and it was there that she was promoted to ‘Sister’ a title she would use for the rest of her life. She made 16 trips back and forth between England and Australia before being honorably discharged after an illness.
In 1932, Brisbane saw a large uptick in polio cases. Kenny and friends established an ad hoc clinic behind a hotel, but after success, she moved into the hotel itself. Her first official evaluation occurred in 1934, after which she established ‘Kenny’s Clinics’ in several cities.
So its worth noting that conventional treatments at the time involved putting kids in braces and strapping them to beds/boards sometimes for months a time and then later fitted with heavy metal braces; think Forrest Gump. Kenny’s method was super duper different; she expressly didn’t believe in braces because she believed they caused ‘bad gait’ patterns.
Her clinic still exists in a way today, having united with Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 1975, renaming it Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute after a second merger with the Courage Institute. But her larger impact was basically the creation of the foundation of rehab, the idea that we should treat muscles not be resting/restricting them, but by applying heat/using slow/steady muscle movements/strength training etc.
Sister Kenny Quotes:
He who angers you conquers you.
It’s better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.
Panic plays no part in the training of a nurse.
Some minds remain open long enough for the truth not only to enter but to pass on through by way of a ready exit without pausing anywhere along the route.