Images of the Nineteenth-Century Nurse

Anne Summers looks at the status of one of the few professions open to women.

Recent research on nursing history has rescued the subject from the naivetes of Nightingale hagiography, and from simple accounts of professional advance. In doing so, it raises many new questions: what sort of women became nurses? what were their personal aspirations and experiences? how were they seen by others? as glorified domestic servants, as ministering angels, as medical professionals – or as national and imperial heroines?

In 1883, a schoolgirl named Eleanor Laurence:

was grieving over the fact that none of the professions in which my brothers were distinguishing themselves would be open to mc, as I was 'only a girl'; so I at once decided that I would try to win the Royal Red Cross.

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