Millie is a "baby nurse," hired as a domestic helper and live-in night nurse who cares for other women's infants up to the age of two years. She is "condemned by life to love many babies and lose them all" (1). Millie is described as old, but we are not told how old, or of what else her life has consisted; probably little, since she appears to have cared for one child after another, and has no home apart from where she is employed.

The story begins as she starts a new job, caring for Mrs. Jones's baby daughter. She adores the baby, but is tense and possessive, strongly dislikes the Jones's noisy six-year-old boy, and complains to Mrs. Jones about the other servants. Reluctant to let the baby grow up, she does not encourage her development, and she is overly defensive and protective of the child.

As the baby gets older, Millie becomes more and more anxious until, after a fight with one of the other servants, Mrs. Jones fires her. The story ends where it began, in the waiting room of the employment agency as Millie seeks a new position, a new baby to love and lose.


The kind of nurse presented in this 1926 story is essentially a domestic servant, a working class woman whose "career" is based on economic necessity. She does not seem to have specialized knowledge beyond past experience of caring for other infants. She is employed to do the tedious parts of mothering that the child's own wealthy mother would prefer not to do.

The subtext of the story appears to be an argument against professional childcare, presenting Millie's job as taking a terrible psychological toll on her. The emotional attachment that she develops with each new position is, Williams seems to suggest, a dangerous distortion of female roles. This story would make an interesting addition to discussions of the history of the nursing profession, to the feminization of nursing, and the relationship between professional caregiving and motherhood.


The anthology is part of a Garland series, The History of American Nursing. Story reprinted from Harper's magazine 152 (April 1926), pp. 549-557.

Primary Source

American Nurses in Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories



Place Published

New York




Barbara Melosh

Page Count