It’s much rarer now to hear the phrase “Old Boys’ Network.” My guess is a) it’s true in fewer places and b) relatedly, if it’s identified anywhere someone is going to move to eliminate it. I coined the phrase “Old Girls’ Network – though I have to imagine that a few others also had the idea occur to them – because of the hospital I worked in. New Hampshire State Hospital had its own school of nursing that was just coming to its end when I arrived in the late 1970’s. 50% of the nurses, and 75% of the higher-ranking nurses had come through that school. They favored each other, groomed the new ones for career track, and provided a set of cultural rules of how to behave and advance. If you observed their norms, they would protect you even when you made mistakes, even major mistakes. Protected you against outsiders, anyway. Major errors were remembered, and would likely bump you off any advancement track for years. “Keeping control” of a unit was considered the highest virtue, and bad things were done in the service of keeping control were not only overlooked, but defended. This included verbal abuse of both patients and line staff.
It was a martyrdom culture. You showed up sick or injured and found someone else to get your children to day care. If your needs changed, that didn’t matter. Arrive on time, stay until the end, endure ridiculous schedules. The few, the proud. I am reminded of a line in “Sister Act” of an older nun complaining about the loosening of standards, describing carrying water long distances “back when nuns were nuns!” The posters of the day would emphasize the saintly, sacrificial aspects of the profession, and joining it was not merely being handed a diploma. There were “capping” ceremonies with candles, kneeling, and not only uniforms, but outfits specific to your school. They look ridiculous now. However, it was difficult, dangerous work for not very much money, so you had to give people something in terms of honor and self-respect to compensate for that.
We have a new historical display in the lobby. It is dominated by NHH nursing paraphernalia. I don’t think that is entirely because they infiltrated the committee and made sure of that (though this did happen). I think it’s because they saved this stuff. They had an abundance of textbooks, of old caps and uniforms to choose from. Doctors don’t save that stuff. OT’s and psychologists don’t. The maintenance guys save a lot of pictures – sometimes with people in them, but usually trucks, roads, and buildings.
Social Work is a female-dominated profession, as is occupational therapy. My wife is a librarian, a profession which is similarly so. Yet none had this aura reminiscent of a regiment or a religious order.