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History of Nursing

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Nursing Times looks back on the key figures in nursing who helped shape healthcare today



July 1880: Eva Luckes is appointed Matron of the London Hospital at the age of 26. She has only four years of experience as a nurse and the London Hospital is the largest at this time. The hospital, situated in Whitechapel, was the only general hospital serving the east end of London. The hospital has 600 beds and a nursing staff of 128. Ms Luckes addressed the hospital’s inadequate nursing staff in quantity and quality. She developed a new type of training with two years practical and theoretical training with time spent in the wards that did away with three years of work in wards without any instruction or supervision.

Source: Docstoc


December 20, 1887: Ethel Fenwick holds a meeting in her home that will later be known as the British Nurses’ association (BNA). The aim was to uphold the standards of the profession and form an association of nurses. H.R.H. Princess Christian was approached and agreed to become its First President. A charter was granted in 1893 and it became known as the Royal British Nurses’ Association.

Source: Royal British Nurses’ Association


August 22, 1853: Florence Nightingale takes the position of superintendent at the Institute for the care of sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London. Against her family’s desires of her to become an obedient wife, she chose a degree in nursing. At the time, nursing had a reputation to be a career for poor women, but Florence felt called into the work. The aid secretary at war, Sidney Herbert, helped her receive the position.

Source: Florence Nightingale museum


January 31, 1855: Mary Seacole leaves London to establish a “British Hotel” at Balaklava, Turkey in the Crimea. The hotel was to provide food and comfortable quarters for sick and recovering officers. She was rejected from travelling there by the British Military, but instead of giving up she went there on her own accord. During the war she became known as ‘Mother Seacole’. She was awarded several medals for bravery after the war.

Source: BBC and Mary Seacole website


1859: William Rathbone, merchant and philanthropist in Liverpool,  set up the first ever district nursing service. Initially with only one nurse, he asked Florence Nightingale’s advice on how to expand. At her suggestion, Rathbone persuaded the Infirmary to open a nurse training school, to train both hospital and district nurses. This was established in 1862 and was only the second Nightingale nurse training school, after London.

Source: The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital trust website


1859: Mary Robinson became the first paid nurse in the country to attend the poor. She was employed by William Rathbone, merchant and philanthropist in Liverpool, to take care of his dying wife, Lucretia. After his wife died, he campaigned for a system of district nurses to allow the poor to have similar care. He established the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses in 1862.

Source: University of Liverpool - Special Collections


May 14, 1881: Mary Seacole dies at the age of 76. Her reputation rivalled that of Florence Nightingale as she is most known for helping wounded soldiers in the Crimea war. Her bravery during the war won her several medals. She had made her own way to the war in order to help British soldiers whom she called “my sons.” She is buried in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green in North-west London.

Source: Mary Seacole website


1865: Agnes Jones of Fahan, Ireland became the first trained Nursing Superintendent of Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary in England. She trained in the Nightingale School at St Thomas Hospital in London. She was asked by William Rathbone to take the leadership of bringing trained nurses to care for the sick in Liverpool. She died of typhus fever at the age of 35.

Source: Mersey Gateway website


May 12, 1907: Florence Nightingale is awarded an Order of Merit. The Order of Merit is a special honour awarded to individuals with high achievements in art, learning, literature and science. King Edward VII founded the order in 1902. It is the sole gift of the Sovereign. Ms Nightingale was the first woman to receive the merit. She was recognized for her nursing work as well as her abilities in statistics.

Source: The Offical Website of the British Monarchy


May 1, 1908: The first meeting of the National Council of Trained Nurses of Great Britain and Ireland was held in London. The council was made up of various nurses’ leagues and societies of the day including The Matron’s Council of Great Britain and Ireland, The Registered Nurses’ Society and the Society for State Registration. Mrs. Bedford-Fenwick was the first president of the council. The council adopted the British Journal of Nursing as its official journal.

Source: American Journal of Nursing


August 13, 1910: At the age of 90, Florence Nightingale dies in her sleep. As a much respected nurse, Florence helped change the world of nursing as she made hospitals clean and efficient and made nursing a respected profession. She was nicknamed “The Lady with the Lamp” since she often made nightly rounds during the Crimean War. She was a health reformer, campaigner and nurse. Her writings are still used today as a resource for nurses.

Source: Florence Nightingale museum


August 3, 1915: Edith Cavell is arrested in Brussels for harbouring French and British soldiers during World War I. She was recruited in 1907 to bring Nightingale-style nurse training to Belgium, and remained there when the war broke out. She was working to bring healthier and cleaner care to the area when the war started. It is estimated that she helped 200 men escape from behind German lines throughout the year. She willingly admitted what she had done to her captors.

Source: Edith Cavell Trust


October 12, 1915: Edith Cavell, a British nurse and humanitarian, is executed in Belgium by a German firing squad for helping hundreds of Allied soldiers escape to the Netherlands during World War I. She was sentenced to death after being found guilty of treason. The night before her execution, she spoke the famous words, “I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” Cavell wanted to be known as “a nurse who tried to do her duty.”

Source: Edith Cavell Trust


February 15, 1937: Miss Dorothy Lane suggested that a Nurses League should be formed. The inaugural meeting of the League took place February 15, 1937. Miss Tisdale was appointed as President and Miss Lane became chairman of the committee. The League would: 1. Form a social and professional bond of union between past and present members of staff. 2. Maintain hospital ideals of work and conduct. 3. Endeavour to promote professional interests. The first meeting was held on October 2, 1937.

Source: Nurses’ League


13 March, 1947: Ethel Fenwick dies at the age of 90. She worked to promote higher standards of professionalism and status within nursing. Ms Fenwick founded the International Council of Nurses and was a leader in the campaign for state registration of nurses in Britain. She trained as a nurse at Nottingham Children’s Hospital and at the age of 24, she was Matron of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. She campaigned for nursing rights. She founded the British Journal of Nursing in 1893 and remained its editor until 1946.

Source: Nurses’ Info


1972: Briggs Report. “Professor Asa Briggs, who was asked to review the education and training required by nurses and midwives, said nurse training was inadequate and basic nursing could only be learnt properly in a clinical setting. He proposed a two-tier training course leading to two grades of nurse, a large expansion of training and teaching, and a new statutory body to
take control of the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions – the first step towards creating a new regulator for nurses (the UKCC) in later years.” The report recommended a number of changes to professional education. This report was the basis of the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979.

Source: Nursing Times


1973: Jean McFarlane becomes the first professor of Nursing in England at the Faculty of Medicine at Manchester University. In 1973, she was made the first professor of Nursing in England and became Head of the newly-established Department of Nursing.

Source: Manchester University


1979: Nurse Catherine Hall becomes the first nurse to be invited to sit on the General Medical Council, the doctors’ regulatory body


October 5, 2004: Nurse educationalist Nancy Roper dies in Edinburgh. Ms Roper developed the activities of daily living theory. It influenced every generation of nurses since its publication in 1976, not just here in the UK but in Europe and the US too. She reminded nurses to look at the whole patient and taught them to look beyond the obvious, such as eating and drinking, to aspects such as sexuality, and death and dying. She received neither a state honour nor an RCN fellowship.

Source: Nursing Times






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