NLM logo

ExhibitionNursing and Respectability: Nursing Around the World

Missionary nurses established rural clinics, hospitals and schools of nursing funded by their churches in distant lands in Africa, India and the Far East. As well as caring for those suffering from incurable diseases, many of which can now be treated by drugs, they trained men and women from the area to work alongside them as medical and nursing assistants.

  • A Chinese female nurse in black, sitting with flowers on her lap.

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

    Produced by Photochrom Co. Ltd., London

    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 1930’s 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.

  • Two White missionary women inside a parlor. The seated woman on the left wears nursing clothes.

    Deaconesses standing in the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital, Chicago, IL, ca. 1909

    Produced by A. J. Schumann Publishing

    Deaconesses served in the mission field in China, Madagascar, Africa, India and Alaska. The Deaconess to the left wears a traditional nurses’ uniform, the Deaconess to the right wears a costume associated with the Norwegian Lutheran group’s missionary work in China.

  • A White female religious nurse kneeling and tending to a thin African young woman.

    Dutch Catholic nurse with a patient with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), Dahomey (today Benin), ca. 1910

    Produced by Missionary House for African Missions, Keer, Netherlands

    Missionary nurses cared for people from the area and trained them in modern health and hygiene. Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy), a bacterial infection now treated with drugs, was incurable one hundred years ago and blighted many people’s lives. Sufferers were forced to live in separate leper ‘colonies’ to prevent infecting others.

  • A White female nurse in foreground looking at patients gathered around three cots on a porch.

    Illustration depicting St. Lucy’s mission hospital, Kaffraria, South Africa, ca. 1910

    Produced by Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, United Kingdom

    British missionary sisterhoods were among the first to establish rural health clinics in South Africa and to train men and women from local communities as medical and nursing assistants. Two Anglican sisters from the Community of St. Mary the Virgin established a rural dispensary at Kaffraria which became this mission hospital in 1906.

  • Scene of an African hospital ward, there is a White female nurse, five African female nurses.

    An illustration of a ward in a hospital for Africans, Accra, Gold Coast (today Ghana), 1924

    Created by C. Chersman

    Produced by Raphael Tuck and Sons, London

    In 1924, the British colonial governor of Ghana, Frederick Guggisberg, described this image for the Gold Coast News: “This is another propaganda picture to show the people at home how Britain provides for the care of the native peoples…to show them that white nursing sisters and black nurses combine together to look after the sick natives of the country.”