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ExhibitionPicturing the Gender of Nursing: The Hospital Family

Hospital work one hundred years ago echoed domestic arrangements in the home. Nurses supported the doctors, treating patients as if they were children and undertaking household tasks. Senior nurse titles (sister, matron) implied a female hierarchy and administrative system. Images of male nurses were rarely seen.

  • Ten White female nurses and one White man in a suit, standing and looking at the viewer.

    Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses surrounding the namesake of the Perkins Bull Convalescent Hospital for Canadian soldiers, London, ca. 1917

    Mr. Perkins Bull, a Canadian businessman, set up his London home as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital during World War I to care for convalescent Canadian soldiers. The hospital was staffed entirely by female VAD nurses.

  • Twelve hospital staff, one White male doctor and eleven White female nurses.

    St. Luke’s Hospital Doctor and Nurses, Fergus Falls, MN, 1911

    Created by Walter T. Oxley (1872—1955)

    Produced by St. Luke’s Hospital

    Hospital work echoed the hierarchical patriarchal domestic arrangements found in middle-class homes. Women nurses supported doctors, treating patients similarly to children and undertaking household tasks. An early nursing training manual by Clara S. Weeks-Shaw in 1900 instructed, “The first duty is that of obedience—absolute fidelity to [the doctor’s] orders…”

  • A WWI hospital ward. White male doctor stands to the left, White nurses and patients behind him.

    World War I military hospital, 1914—18

    The doctor stands in the foreground to the left, as if guarding his patients, with the nursing staff and convalescent patients gathered behind him. The arrangement in the photograph is typical of many similar ward scenes at this time.