Cynthia Anne Connolly, PhD, RN
Cynthia Anne Connolly loved being a pediatric nurse practitioner and a clinical nurse specialist. But from the day she discovered that she could combine her love of nursing with healthcare history, she began to focus on understanding and interpreting the historical forces that have shaped children’s healthcare delivery and family policy in the United States.
“My research focuses on the forces that have shaped child health care policy and delivery, to help us understand where we are today and how to move forward.”
- PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 1999
- MSN , University of Rochester, 1987
- BSN, University of Pennsylvania, 1980
Dr. Connolly’s scholarship, grounded in historical research and social justice, explicates contentious questions such as who speaks for children and how American society decides their “best interests.” Her research shows how answers to these questions continually shape the contemporary health care delivery template and vary significantly according to children’s race, social class, ethnicity, and gender.
Dr. Connolly combines her education in historical research, policy background, and many years of pediatric nursing practice to teach undergraduate courses in children’s health and psychological and social diversity. She also teaches two humanities-related courses open to undergraduates throughout the university, one on nursing and health care history and another that emphasizes the uses of narrative and memoir to consider major themes and events related to the experience of health and illness in the United States. She created and directs the History, Health and the Humanities minor at the nursing school. This innovative initiative provide students with the tools and perspectives to study clinical issues in ways different than the lens provided by natural or social sciences.
Drawing on her experience as a fellow in the United States Senate, many years of pediatric nursing practice, and historical and policy education, Connolly’s research analyzes the forces that have shaped pediatric health care delivery and family policy in the United States, how ideas about children’s “best interests” shift over time; and the ways in which politics and legislative and regulatory choices lead to reforms with both intended and unintended consequences for children, parents, and the nurses and other health care providers who cared for them. She also uses the lens of history to trace the intellectual history of nursing ideas that shaped education and practice and forces that have shaped American healthcare delivery.
Dr. Connolly’s most recent book, Children and Drug Safety: Balancing Risk and Protection in Twentieth Century America, was funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was published in 2018 by Rutgers University Press Critical Issues in Health and Medicine series. This book traces the development, use, and marketing of drugs for children in the twentieth century, a history that sits at the interface of the state, business, health care providers, parents, and children. Children and Drug Safety illuminates the historical dimension of a clinical and policy issue with great contemporary significance, many of the drugs administered to children today have never been tested for safety and efficacy in the pediatric population. Children and Drug Safety also reveals the ways in which the ethics regarding how best to evaluate drugs in the pediatric population has always been dynamic and contingent. At some historical moments, it has been considered in children’s “best interest” for them to participate in drug trials; at other times, they have been barred from such research in an effort to “protect” them. The issues embedded in discussions of children and drugs involve social justice considerations regarding society’s obligations to children, evolving understandings of their place and protection in society, determinations of who should decide what interventions are in their best interests, and how they should be funded.
Her prior National Library of Medicine-funded research examined health disparities using children and tuberculosis as a case study. The resulting award-winning book, Saving Sickly Children: The Tuberculosis Preventorium in American Life, 1909–1970 was published by Rutgers University Press Critical Issues in Health and Medicine series in 2008. A monograph analyzing policies, practices, and missed opportunities surrounding the development of well child care in the United States, Well-Child Care and the Commonwealth Fund’s Child Development and Preventive Care Program, was supported by the Commonwealth Fund and published in 2013.
Dr. Connolly’s current research, funded by the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation and the Trustees Council of Penn Women, examines the twentieth century history of nurses and human experimentation research. This research will deepen understandings of the profession’s past by challenging traditional narratives and by providing context and analysis to enrich nurses’ contemporary ethical discussions. It also fills a major historiographic gap. While there is a robust body of recent human experimentation historiography, little of it is focused on nursing’s participation. This work complicates the historiography of human experimentation by introducing new actors and a different lens through which to explore the social and professional networks in which knowledge is generated.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
Dr. Connolly collaborates with Penn colleagues through the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research and the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing. As one of four faculty directors at the Field Center, she and colleagues in the schools of social policy and practice, law, and medicine, work together to reform the systems that are responsible for protecting children. Dr. Connolly is also Bates’ Center Associate Director, Core Faculty, Alice Paul Center for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality and Senior Fellow, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and Affiliated Faculty, History and Sociology of Science, School of Arts and Sciences.
Selected Career Highlights
- Arthur J. Viseltear Award for outstanding contribution to the history of public health, American Public Health Association Medical Care Section, for Children and Drug Safety: Balancing Risk and Protection in Twentieth Century America
- Distinguished Alumna Award, University of Rochester School of Nursing
- Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching
- J. Worth Estes Prize for Pharmaceutical History, American Association for the History of Medicine, for “A Startling New Chemotherapeutic Agent:” Pediatric Infectious Disease and the Introduction of Sulfonamides at Baltimore’s Sydenham Hospital
- Mary Adelaide Nutting Award, American Association for the History of Nursing, for “A Startling New Chemotherapeutic Agent:” Pediatric Infectious Disease and the Introduction of Sulfonamides at Baltimore’s Sydenham Hospital
- Agnes Dillon Randolph Award for Sustained Contributions to Nursing History, University of Virginia School of Nursing
- Lavinia Dock Award for Exemplary Historical Research and Writing, American Association for the History of Nursing, for Saving Sickly Children
- Lavinia Dock Award, American Association for the History of Nursing for Beyond Social History: New Approaches to Understanding the State of and the State in Nursing History
- Fellow, American Academy of Nursing
- Associate Editor, Nursing History Review
- Legislative Fellow, United States Senate
Connolly, C.A. (2008). Saving sickly children: The tuberculosis preventorium in American life, 1909-1970. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.