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  • The Grenfell Mission and American Support in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1890s–1940s ed. by Jennifer J. Connor and Katherine Side
  • Peter L. Twohig
Jennifer J. Connor and Katherine Side, eds. The Grenfell Mission and American Support in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1890s–1940s. McGill-Queen's/Associated Medical Services Studies in the History of Medicine, Health, and Society. Montreal: McGill/Queen's University Press, 2019. xvi + 392 pp. Ill. $34.95 (978-0-7735-5487-0).

There are a handful of critical studies, biographies, journal articles, theses, and doctoral dissertations that explore aspects of the Grenfell Mission that brought health, education, and other services to northern Newfoundland and coastal Labrador. So what does an edited collection such as the one curated by Jennifer J. Connor and Katherine Side add to this literature? The short answer is quite a lot.

Health and other social services were delivered through a patchwork of arrangements in Newfoundland and Labrador, which was independent of Canada until 1949. Health, education, and social services were all woefully underdeveloped or nonexistent. The Grenfell Mission, which became the International Grenfell Association (IGA) in 1914, stepped into this gap to meet some of the basic needs of the residents. The IGA ran a network of institutions, including hospitals and nursing stations, in northern Newfoundland and along the Labrador coast, encompassing some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) of coastline in a very unforgiving environment. [End Page 624]

The book is divided into two parts. The first part has four chapters that explore the political and social context of the IGA and Newfoundland and Labrador. James Hiller, one of Newfoundland's most eminent historians, provides a very cogent chapter on Wilfred Grenfell and Newfoundland that provides essential context for understanding the man and his mission. Hiller describes the IGA as a "colony within a colony" (p. 44) suggesting both the scope of its activities and its distinctive identity in Newfoundland. In her chapter on Grenfell, race, and missions, Jennifer Connor highlights how the IGA was, in the broadest sense, part of a number of social movements that were a response to the problems of uneven economic development, underdeveloped state infrastructure, and a variety of other issues. Ronald Numbers explores the relationship between Grenfell and John Harvey Kellogg, a leading health reformer, both of whom shared an interest in the "gospel of right living" (p. 269). Kellogg, as Numbers noted, existed on the border between reputable and disreputable practice, and Grenfell carefully managed this so as not to disrupt his mission. The fragility of the Grenfell mission is ably illustrated in the chapter by Heidi Coombs-Thorne, who has authored many fine studies of nursing in the IGA. She analyzes how the actions of a single person associated with the mission nearly undid Grenfell's efforts and unraveled the network that he had carefully cultivated for twenty years.

The next six chapters explore the work and activities of the mission to varying degrees of success. All of them are interesting in their own ways and reveal a good deal about the scope of the work. There are essays on sports history, clothing distribution, and education, as well as two essays focused on health care. One unusual omission is any consideration of the religious aspect of the "mission," except for several references to "muscular Christianity." This oversight is a significant one, and the collection would have been enriched through the inclusion of such a chapter or encouraging contributors to address this key aspect of the mission's work. This is particularly true when one remembers that the essays are not solely focused on health care but extend into other arenas of activity and also the important place of religion in organizing Newfoundland society in these years.

It is an old saw to complain that edited collections are characterized by an uneven quality. I would have liked the chapters to engage more fully with one another and build on one another. For example, Jennifer Connor notes that what distinguished the IGA was its focus "English-speaking, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants" rather than "non-white, non-Christian, Indigenous peoples" (p. 49), a point that Grenfell emphasized in his efforts to secure both funds and...


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