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ExhibitionPicturing Nursing as a Career

Nursing as a profession began about 150 years ago led by social reformers, like Florence Nightingale, in the United Kingdom and the United States.

A career in nursing offered new opportunities for women such as economic independence and freedom from constricting domestic lives. The postcards promote opportunities for service and travel to distant lands in the military or the Red Cross, while public health nursing offered the chance to engage in meaningful service to the community.

  • Groups of White female nurses, some wearing goggles, administer treatment to patients

    Trained nurses administer the Finsen Light Treatment at the London Hospital, ca. 1900

    Nurses worked at the forefront of science in the early 20th century implementing new treatments like light therapy at the London Hospital. Danish scientist Niels Finsen developed this treatment, which concentrated light through a lens, to help treat skin tuberculosis by killing the bacteria that caused the disease.

  • A nursing school classroom filled with a large group of White women, and two African American women.

    Classroom of the Illinois Post Graduate and Training School for Nurses, Chicago, ca. 1914

    Produced by Illinois Post Graduate and Training School for Nurses

  • Six White female nurses standing in front of a car with a Red Cross symbol on a 'Motor Corps' flag.

    Red Cross Motor Corp promotional card, ca. 1917

    Produced by American Red Cross

    Women’s newfound economic independence and self-confidence was reflected in the more relaxed fashions of the day. Advertising images promoted modern trends, representing nurses as ‘modern women’ with an interest in shopping and fashionable clothes.

  • A White female nurse, walking with her arms full of packages.

    A modern nurse, France, 1917

    Women’s newfound economic independence and self-confidence was reflected in the more relaxed fashions of the day. Advertising images promoted modern trends, representing nurses as ‘modern women’ with an interest in shopping and fashionable clothes.

  • A White female nurse in a scarf, standing and smiling at viewer.

    An image of a nurse modeling the “comfy knit” muffler, ca. 1918

    Produced by Nathan Novelty Manufacturing Co., New York

    Women’s newfound economic independence and self-confidence was reflected in the more relaxed fashions of the day. Advertising images promoted modern trends, representing nurses as ‘modern women’ with an interest in shopping and fashionable clothes.

  • A White female nurse taking the heart rate of a White male lying in bed.

    The nurse’s uniform imagined as a trendy modern outfit, Italy, 1907

    Created by Luigi Bompard (1879—1953)

    Italian painter, illustrator, and fashion designer Luigi Bompard imagined the nurse’s uniform as a reflection of the fashionable dress code of the day. Images such as this promoted ideas about nurses as ‘modern’ women, economically independent and self-confident, with interests in shopping and fashionable clothes.

  • Side by side images of a White female nurse giving medicine to a wounded White male soldier in bed.

    Field hospital on the Tugela River in South Africa during the Boer War, 1900

    Produced by Underwood & Underwood, New York

    The Red Cross offered opportunities to work worldwide; news of nursing in faraway places made nursing seem like an adventurous, rewarding career. The nurse cradling an injured soldier evokes associations of Mary, the greatest mother, mourning her crucified son, imagery that appealed to pious women searching for fulfillment outside the home.

  • A White female nurse holding a bandaged patient to her chest, with the Red Cross symbol behind her.

    The Greatest Mother in the World, ca. 1918

    Produced by American Red Cross, Cincinnati, OH Chapter

    The Red Cross offered opportunities to work worldwide; news of nursing in faraway places made nursing seem like an adventurous, rewarding career. The nurse cradling an injured soldier evokes associations of Mary, the greatest mother, mourning her crucified son, imagery that appealed to pious women searching for fulfillment outside the home.

  • Three White female nurses standing in front of a list of world locations.

    Postcard reproduction of a 1914 Voluntary Aid Detachment recruitment poster, ca. 1990

    Produced by Imperial War Museum, United Kingdom

    The United Kingdom created a career structure for army nurses in 1901. Women found serving in the military rewarding but it was the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), with its promise of adventure and foreign travel, that encouraged civilians to enlist.

  • A White female nurse tends a wounded White male soldier along with another soldier and a medic.

    Help the wounded!, ca. 1915

    Produced by St. John Ambulance Association Malta Centre

    St. John Ambulance Association, a voluntary aid association formed in England in 1877, joined forces with the Red Cross in 1914 to create the Joint War Committee and expand the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). The VAD recruited around 23,000 volunteers to provide nursing care for war casualties in England and abroad.

  • White woman in military uniform looking at the viewer. Behind her are a gun and IV drip bag.

    Reproduction of Army Nurse Corps recruitment poster for WWII, 2001

    Created by Henry McAlear

    Produced by Dover Publications Inc., United States

    World War II created a huge demand for army nurses. By the end of the war, more than 59,000 nurses had worked close to the front lines, many were taken prisoner, and some died in battle. Their heroism, now recognized in subsequent conflicts, brought nursing new professional status and regard in American society.

  • A bronze statue of two female nurses aiding a wounded male soldier.

    Army Nurse Corps Memorial by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, Washington, DC, 1993

    Produced by Silberne Sales Inc., Washington, DC

    World War II created a huge demand for army nurses. By the end of the war, more than 59,000 nurses had worked close to the front lines, many were taken prisoner, and some died in battle. Their heroism, now recognized in subsequent conflicts, brought nursing new professional status and regard in American society.

  • A White woman in all black with a nursing bag in her hand walking in the snow.

    A Queen’s rural district nurse on her rounds, Scotland ca. 1927

    Produced by Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses

    A hundred years ago, rural visiting nurses provided the only medical care available for some isolated communities. They travelled 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.

  • A White female nurse tending to a White boy in front of a car, White male leans against the car.

    Bristol Visiting Nurse Association, United States, ca. 1909

    Produced by The Bristol Press, CT

    A hundred years ago, rural visiting nurses provided the only medical care available for some isolated communities. They travelled 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.

  • A White female nurse sitting on top of a donkey and smiling at the viewer.

    John’s nurse, a rural community nurse, United States, ca. 1914

    A hundred years ago, rural visiting nurses provided the only medical care available for some isolated communities. They travelled 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.

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

    Rural visiting nurse Elizabeth McPhee, Scotland, 1926

    A hundred years ago, rural visiting nurses provided the only medical care available for some isolated communities. They travelled 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.

  • White female nurse holding an African American infant in a home, by African American family.

    Toledo District Nurse Association promotional card, OH, ca. 1913

    Produced by Toledo District Nurse Association

    District and community nurses associations were one of the first charitable organizations to combat tuberculosis, a disease that was rife among those living in overcrowded housing conditions. The nurses’ concern was the health of women and children in the expanding industrial towns and cities as well as rural areas.

  • A White female community nurse outside a house surrounded by White children and women.

    Illinois Red Cross community nurse fund promotional card, ca. 1914

    Produced by American Red Cross, Illinois Chapter

    District and community nurses associations were one of the first charitable organizations to combat tuberculosis, a disease that was rife among those living in overcrowded housing conditions. The nurses’ concern was the health of women and children in the expanding industrial towns and cities as well as rural areas.