‘Angels in nursing’: images of nursing sisters in a Lutheran context in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

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This article examines Catholic nursing orders in Denmark. In 1849, 300 years after the Reformation, freedom of worship was introduced in Lutheran Denmark. In 1856 the first Catholic nursing order in modern times settled in the country. Others followed, and in 1940 the nursing orders owned 17 general hospitals and had a share of 10% of the hospital beds in Denmark. The purpose of this article is to identify images in the public media text of these Catholic nursing orders in Denmark from 1856 to the present, and to deconstruct the existing angel image the nuns and sisters in nursing have obtained. The assumption is that the public image is an important indicator of how a profession is valued in society. Six images — three positive and three negative — are identified, and it is demonstrated that these images were closely connected to the nursing sisters' professional activities and confessional affiliation. Until the 1950s the image of nursing sisters as representing a counterculture in Lutheran Denmark persisted. This image was succeeded by one of professional nurses of high standards. The shift was caused by increased secularisation and the renewal of religious life, as a result of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

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