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ExhibitionThe Art of Nursing: Romance, Comedy, and Titillation

Commercial postcards and greeting cards treat images of nurses similarly to the ways in which images of women are treated in other popular art forms of the day. At the beginning of the 20th century, the cards use innuendo and visual teasing to hint at female sexuality. By the 1950s, nurses are more frequently shown as sex objects, the emphasis on their bodies reflecting the popularity of the ‘pin up’ and ‘calendar’ girl.

  • White female nurse in red and white uniform, with skirt blowing forward in the wind.

    Medi-Kate, 1906

    Produced by Williamson-Haffner Co., Denver, CO

    One of a series of postcards based on the popular What Katy Did Next books by Susan Coolidge (1831—1905). This card depicts Katy as a Red Cross nurse.

  • White female nurse bandaging a heart.

    A Valentine Message, ca. 1913

    Created by Samuel Schmucker (1879—1921)

    Many early Valentine cards show nurses mending broken hearts.

  • A White female nurse standing next to a White male wounded soldier propped up in bed and smiling.

    Oh, something about a pretty girl and a wounded soldier with a happy ending, ca. 1918

    Created by Rez Maurice

    Produced by The Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London

    Innuendo and double entendre were common on British and American comic postcards from the 1900s until the late 1950s. Here, the nurse is being indirectly propositioned by the male patient, who is seeking a tryst with her. Liaisons between nurses and patients were strictly forbidden.

  • White female nurse smiling and looking at viewer in short white dress, image in pin-up girl style.

    He’s taken a turn for the nurse, 1940s

    Created Zoë Mozert (1907—1993)

    Produced by International Mutoscope Reel Co., New York

    Cards like this one produced by Mutoscope, were available from coin operated vending machines in amusement arcades. Most featured ‘pin up’ images; some featured cartoons.

  • An attractive White female nurse leaving a patient's room speaking to a matronly White female nurse.

    Add a black eye to whatever he’s already got!, 1950s

    Produced by H. B. Ltd., England

    This card uses two common British nurse stereotypes, the older ‘battle-axe,’ a frustrated spinster and strict disciplinarian, and the young ‘sexy’ nurse, to create comic affect. Sexy nurses were frequently shown as worldly wise, working-class blonde women, who were ‘fair game’ for their male patients’ unwanted advances.