Shifting boundaries: religion, medicine, nursing and domestic service in mid-nineteenth-century Britain

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Abstract

Shifting boundaries: religion, medicine, nursing and domestic service in mid-nineteenth-century Britain

The boundaries between medicine, religion, nursing and domestic service were fluid in mid-nineteenth-century England. The traditional religious understanding of illness conflicted with the newer understanding of anatomically based disease, the Anglican sisters were drawing a line between professional nursing and the traditional role of nurses as domestic servants who looked after sick people as one of their many duties, and doctors were looking for more knowledgeable nurses who could carry out their orders competently. This prosopographical study of the over 200 women who served as government nurses during the Crimean War 1854-56 describes the status of nursing and provides a picture of the religious and social structure of Britain in the 1850s. It also illustrates how religious, political and social factors affected the development of the new nursing. The Crimean War nurses can be divided into four major groups: volunteer secular ladies, Roman Catholic nuns, Anglican sisters and working-class hospital nurses. Of these four groups I conclude that it was the experienced working-class nurses who had the greatest influence on the organization of the new nursing.

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