Nursing the tropics: nurses as agents of imperial hygiene


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Abstract

BackgroundMrs Francis Piggott proposed the Colonial Nursing Association in 1895 as a means of supplying Britain's colonies and dominions with trained professional nurses, who would support the health of white colonists abroad. Over 8400 nurses were placed between 1896 and the Association's end in 1966. Despite the burgeoning of scholarship on gender and empire over the last few decades, there is still more research to be done examining nurses as professional, working women, who present a fascinating variation on the figure of the woman traveler.MethodsThis essay focuses on 1896–1927, exploring how nurses were prepared for their labor abroad and how these skills were challenged and adapted within a foreign environment. We contextualize this discussion with examples from literary tales of exploration and adventure and discourses of empire.Results/conclusionsThough the sources of disease against which nurses fought changed during this period, we assert that the underlying role of the nurse continued the same: she was meant to use the tools of personal as well as public ‘hygiene’ to create both physical and cultural boundaries around her white patients and herself, setting colonists apart from their colonial setting.

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