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The postcard is a fleeting and widespread art form influenced by popular ideas about social and cultural life in addition to fashions in visual style. Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards for over one hundred years. In fact, no other art form has illustrated the nursing profession so profusely using such a variety of artistic styles and images.

These images of nurses and nursing 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.

Pictures of Nursing investigates the hold these images exert on the public imagination—then and now.

The Zwerdling Collection

The History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine 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 collection.

  • A White female nurse on a motorcycle, looking at the viewer, castle in background

    Rural visiting nurse Elizabeth McPhee, Scotland, 1926