By Alannah Tomkins
I am delighted to be launching the eleventh volume of the UKAHN Bulletin, and the fifth edition to appear first online. Most of the articles and reports given here arise from our summer colloquium in Chichester 2023 and offer a fair reflection of the breadth of current nursing history projects, either about UK nurses, nursing in the broader Anglophone world, or being conducted by UK researchers.
Among our longer articles, Amanda Gwinnup considers the experiences of British nurses working overseas during the First World War. She covers both the diseases prevalent in mobile armed forces and the risks of injury or death owing directly to combat. Even nursing staff on hospital ships were not entirely insulated from these threats.
Three colleagues join forces here to showcase the life of Patricia Sunderland (1894-1967) who was born and died on the west coast of Ireland yet was instrumental in developing occupational therapy as a mental-health treatment in Wales. Her wider personal and career experiences have proved worthy of investigation, not least because, until now, Sunderland’s contribution to occupational therapy and mental health nursing has been neglected.
Erin Spinney gives us details of the arrangements for supporting sick or wounded nurses in English naval hospitals. She has recently won the AAHN Mary Adelaide Nutting Award for her related work ‘Nurses, Orderlies, and the Gendered Division of Care in Napoleonic-Era British Naval Hospitals’, published in the Nursing History Review (2023): congratulations to Erin! She continues the task of recovering the reputations of women and men who nursed before the reforms of the 1850s and later.
A positive experience was secured by women born in England or Scotland but who went on to develop nursing and midwifery practices as members of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Sheri Tesseyman’s article compares three women who, with different levels of background training, became highly regarded and offered training to others in their adopted home of Utah.
The first of our shorter ‘work in progress’ articles by Rosie Collins underlines the fact that the route to professional recognition is not necessarily smooth. Strike action by the Royal College of Nursing in the UK during 2023 was echoed by a strike at the Nottinghamshire Mental Hospital in 1922, although in the latter case the striking women were met by a physically violent response.
Two further short articles consider nurse biography. Janet Hargreaves examines the life of Scotswoman Mary Kerr, a district nurse in northwest England, partly through the minutes of the Arnside and Westmorland Nursing Association (retained by the Cumbria Archive Service). Her district work was tough as a triple duty nurse, and this is the period of her life most open to analysis. Similarly, Gavin Wilk investigates the life of Helen Kerrigan, an Irish émigré to America. Kerrigan worked for the American Red Cross in Serbia, France, and Montenegro between 1914 and 1919, foreign service embedded in a longer domestic career of domestic public-health nursing. His article shows the value of records digitised by Ancestry.com for nursing genealogy.
Also focussing on the first half of the twentieth century, Stuart Wildman surveys the proliferation of nursing badges and their significance for nurses’ claims to professional recognition. It is notable that these tactile items, collectable and much collected, have so far given rise to such a small academic literature. This short article coheres around examples of badges associated with Ethel Fenwick.
The Bulletin concludes with a series of reports about projects and events occurring in 2023. In May the Royal College of Nursing launched its exhibition Unmasked about experiences of nursing during Covid-19. Antonia Harland-Lang covers the peer-to-peer interviews that captured nursing voices from across the profession, and other forms of collecting pertinent to the exhibition including via artistic projects and picket-line artefacts arising from industrial action this year.
Existing archival materials relating to the St George’s Hospital Nursing School have been catalogued with support from a National Archives grant. Fabian Macpherson accounts for the collection being dominated by material from the late twentieth century, despite the school dating from the 1860s. The holdings include over 100 oral-history interviews gathered in the early 2000s.
Finally, in the provinces the Chester Royal Infirmary’s historic stained-glass windows, in storage since 1994, were unveiled in June in a new location, the University of Chester’s Wheeler Building. They were originally installed 1906-20, three of them in the Children’s Ward, ensuring that the children in the windows formed material for nurses’ story-telling over the generations.
In future the contents of the Bulletin will continue to be available open access online, but signposting to articles will be much improved: the Bulletin will henceforth feature in the Brepolis Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH). This will go some way to raise the profile of outputs in nursing history, and to flag the importance of the Bulletin for researchers both within and beyond the UK. BBIH is a subscription service which is often available through university libraries and is an invaluable research tool for historians because it routinely identifies articles embedded in journals as well as books and other forms of discrete publication. The value of Bulletin articles for wider health history will, I hope, be more readily acknowledged via this portal.
Also, of note in the field of published histories are editorial changes at Nursing History Review, the journal of the American Association for the History of Nursing. Jane Brooks reports that the word limit for full articles may now span 7000-15,000 words (including endnotes). There will be a new section in the NHR for doctoral students and postdoctoral research, with a limit of 4000-5000 words (including endnotes). Mentoring is available for postgraduate and early career authors (i.e. those within three years after submission) from the journal’s editorial team. In future, sections for methodology, and for keynote talks, will be reintroduced when appropriate.
Nursing history research therefore seems buoyant. The reach of history into the undergraduate curricula of nursing in the UK remains limited by comparison, but there were signs in 2023 that the arts and humanities, including history, may find more purchase in the future. The University of Exeter has launched a new module ‘The Art and History of Nursing’ to explore the literary arts through their relationship to medicine, nursing and health. The content includes reflection on leaders of nursing in the past, study of creative outputs by both patients and practitioners, plus the opportunity for students to devise their own creative work (with possibilities for poetic, or visual-art creation). The exhibition of student work launched in December 2022 can be found here.
Positive public recognition for nurses also remains strong, not least owing to continuing appreciation of the value of the NHS. UKAHN member Claire Chatterton was a key speaker at a special reception held in June by the Nursing Times to celebrate the seventy fifth anniversary of the NHS, with a focus on the contributions of nurses and midwives to the service. The 100-strong gathering met at Amazing Grace near London Bridge, where Claire talked about nurses in NHS history. You can find a report, and some beautiful images of the event, here.
In 2024, UKAHN will be appealing to the membership on two counts: we are seeking new members for our committee and will be developing web pages relating to UKAHN’s history as an organisation. Please do get in touch if you would like to contribute to either or both of these projects. Finally, we are looking forward to our next colloquium to be held in Greenwich which is rather romantically referenced in the cover image for this issue: see you there!