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Nurses in motion: mobility and career development of late 19th and early 20th century British nurses

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Time: 5.00pm - 6.30pm
Venue: Room 3014, John Galsworthy building, Penrhyn Road campus, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE
Price: free
Speaker(s): Dr Sue Hawkins

Nurses in motion: mobility and career development of late 19th and early 20th century British nurses

Were late 19th century nurses using nursing as a ‘husband-hunting' exercise or did they see it as an opportunity to develop a career and an independence not normally associated with women from this period?

This paper is an initial output from a project undertaken by the Centre for the Historical Record to digitise the membership registers for the Royal British Nurses Association, an institution established by a group of matrons in 1889 to promote the professionalisation of nursing in Britain. The RBNA was not universally supported, and its aims were challenged by doctors, hospitals and other nurses, including Florence Nightingale herself. This paper will be in two parts: the first will provide a brief history of the founding of the RBNA and the controversies it sparked and the second part will discuss how studying such sources can add to our knowledge of nursing as it evolved into a paramedical profession rather than a subdivision of domestic labour.

In late 19th century Britain it was claimed in some quarters that nursing was used as a stop gap between education and marriage by middle class women, an assumption which has been promulgated in many subsequent histories. In previous work I have demonstrated this was not the case for one London hospital (St George's), but it is difficult to draw broad conclusions of national trends from single hospital study. By analysing the registers of the RBNA, which contain details of the careers of its nurse members, a much wider community is laid open to study. Some 6,000 nurses are listed in the pages of the register, from across the country, and by studying their careers and their family backgrounds I hope to test out the hypothesis mooted in my previous work, but also to attempt to identify shared characteristics among the women who joined this rather controversial organisation.

This is a work in progress, but early results reveal long and complex careers, involving multiple moves around and beyond the country. They suggest that for RBNA members, in the choice between career and marriage, and challenging the common assumptions of Victorian and Edwardian society, their careers were more important.

For further information about this event:

Contact: Marisa Linton
Email: M.Linton@kingston.ac.uk

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Directions to Room 3014, John Galsworthy building, Penrhyn Road campus, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE:

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