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NLM Launches "Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection"

Special Display, Online Exhibition Opening September 2, 2014

The National Library of Medicine launches a special display in the History of Medicine Division Reading Room and an online adaptation of Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection.

Pictures of Nursing presents a selection of historic postcards from NLM’s recently-acquired Zwerdling postcard collection, spanning a century of nursing imagery. Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards. These images are informed by cultural values; ideas about women, men, and work; and by attitudes toward class, race, and national differences. By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in 20th-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times.

This unique exhibition will open to the public in the History of Medicine Division Reading Room from September 2, 2014 to August 21, 2015, and will be available online at www.nlm.nih.gov/picturesofnursing. Julia Hallam, PhD, professor of communication and media at the University of Liverpool curated Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection

The online exhibition incorporates a “Digital Gallery,” which includes a selection of 585 postcards from the Zwerdling collection not shown in the special display. The Digital Gallery also includes online activities, providing viewers new avenues to explore beyond the exhibition. Education resources are also featured in the online exhibition, including a lesson plan for grades 9-10 that investigates the exhibition content; a higher education module; an online activity, and a robust selection of resources including K-12 suggested readings. In addition, the Web feature, “Related Resources at NLM,” includes a selection of published articles on contemporary nursing issues available through PubMed Central, which provides free access to over 3.1 million full-text biomedical and life science journal articles.

The NLM History of Medicine Division acquired an archive of 2,588 postcards from American nurse and collector Michael Zwerdling, RN. This unique archive consists of postcards with images of nurses and the nursing profession from around the world, produced between 1893 and 2011 with many examples coming from the “Golden Age” of postcards—roughly 1907 to 1920. Pictures of Nursing provides a way to understand the types of images that are represented in the full collection.

Rural visiting nurse Elizabeth McPhee, Scotland, 1926
Rural visiting nurse Elizabeth McPhee, Scotland, 1926

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

A hundred years ago, rural visiting nurses provided the only medical care available for some isolated communities. They traveled by whatever means possible to attend to the sick. Liberated from the restrictive hierarchies of hospital life, visiting and community nurses pioneered public health movements in both the United Kingdom and United States.

Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908
Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

The George A. Brewster Hospital opened in 1901 to treat African American victims of the Great Fire of Jacksonville, which left ten thousand people homeless.

May, a mission nurse, Hankou, China, 1930s
May, a mission nurse, Hankou, China, 1930s

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Nurse May worked as an auxiliary nurse at the Hankou Union Hospital, where an English Protestant missionary, Gladys Stephenson, pioneered nurse training. By the early 1930s the school was graduating 30 Chinese nurses a year. Stephenson was the principal of the nursing school from 1927 until she was imprisoned by the Japanese after the invasion in 1942, finally retiring in London when the war ended.

Male nurses, Lakewood, NJ, ca. 1910
Male nurses, Lakewood, NJ, ca. 1910

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

The nursing uniform was a source of pride to both male and female nurses, although photographic portrait postcards of male nurses posing in their uniforms are comparatively rare.

Operating team, United States, 1951
Operating team, United States, 1951

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

After World War II, nursing organizations showed a more accurate picture of their profession, like this image from a commemorative series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Army Nurse Corps. Their mission statement declares in part, “All actions and tasks must lead and work toward promoting the wellness of Warriors and their families….”

Nursing recruitment postcard for Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD, 1999
Nursing recruitment postcard for Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD, 1999

Courtesy National Library of Medicine

Hospital publicity in the 1990s began to present images of nurses as part of the modern health care team, highlighting gender and racial diversity and creating an impression of equality between different health care professionals.

 

About the National Library of Medicine
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is the world's largest library of the health sciences and a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Located on the Bethesda, Maryland, campus of the NIH, the Library is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, and its vast online resources are available free to the world at www.nlm.nih.gov. Admission to all onsite NLM exhibitions is free. For more information, visit www.nlm.nih.gov/about/visitor.html or, to arrange a group tour, call 301.594.1947.

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