Portrayals of vulnerable groups in public media, government reports and professional accounts tend, by definition, to focus on their deficits in order to identify need and shape appropriate health care responses. This article within the cultural history of nursing considers a different construction of one vulnerable group in the past, the 'sick poor' in early 20th-century New Zealand. The research analysed primary historical sources that offered rich descriptions of the sick poor, drawn from one major daily newspaper and the country's professional nursing journal, 1900-1920. The article argues that in co-constructing the sick poor as a vulnerable group, district nurses and journalists primarily used the trope of 'sunless lives'. However, they also constructed them as resourceful, resilient and determined. This article offers the construction of the sick poor by district nurses and journalists in early 20th-century New Zealand as an example of a more nuanced construction that goes beyond a one-dimensional portrayal of vulnerability.
The establishment in 1903 of a professional district nursing service in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, was a philanthropic response to the need for skilled care for the sickpoor in their own homes, as hospital and charitable aid boards believed chronic patients drained their resources. This paper argues that it was the timely combination of the individual philanthropy of Sarah Ann Rhodes, the organisational philanthropy of the St John Ambulance Association and the new professional standing and availability of registered nurses such as Annie Holgate that ensured its successful foundation. It also argues that district nursing services blurred spatial, social, and public-private boundaries in new ways. Finally, it considers the district nurse's role as the philanthropist 's proxy, the means for realising the philanthropist's desire to help the sick poor.