The First Professional Nurses: Women Heroes Saving Lives in War 1860-1919

Medical Nurses, Archive


Synopsis: Archive of 25 pieces celebrating the rise of nursing as the first medical profession for women. The first trained nurses entered the field in the 1860s, and their knowledge of antisepsis and hygiene immediately reduced fatalities in hospitals and on the Civil War battlefronts. Amidst their life-saving duties, these nurses also fought for safe working conditions and fair pay. Among this collection's earliest pieces are an 1864 pamphlet opening field nursing to women of all races and requiring fair pay, and an 1865 receipt for the payment of a nurse. By the turn of the century, nurses had gained worldwide respect and they were called upon to provide emergency treatment for soldiers across Europe. The Nurse Corps and the Red Cross organized these women to treat men across all borders regardless of their allegiances. Representing this period in the profession are a rare pamphlet ordering the foundation of the Nurse Corps in 1901 and a 1918 Typed Letter Signed from William Howard Taft praising the work of Mabel Boardman in reorganizing the Red Cross. Also included are a set of 1919 nursing Commission Orders with paperwork on pay and uniform requirements, and an original vintage Red Cross Nursing Cap and Tool Kit which were worn in service during the period. Visually documenting these professional nurses' early heroism are 2 vintage Nurse Corps photo albums containing over 200 black and white photos, a set of mat boards mounting over 70 images of nurses working on the European front in 1911-1915, and a series of 13 loose photos of varying sizes depicting Red Cross nurses working in hospitals and treating patients. Pamphlets and handbills all extremely rare, with no other copies reported worldwide at OCLC Worldcat.

Archive of 25 pieces celebrating the rise of professional nursing and the life-saving skills nurses used to ensure the comfort of all patients in times of international crisis. Putting aside nationality and personal difference, these nurses embody the best of humanity when they rush to the front lines, risking their own safety to use their medical knowledge to rescue of others. This collection contains paper memorabilia, photo albums, tactile clothing items, and loose photos ranging from the 19th-20th century.

The earliest pieces in this collection mark the beginnings of nursing during the mid-19th century. During this time, Mary Livermore had begun enacting new professional standards in nursing, including workplace protections that guaranteed women nurses stable pay and suitable housing. This portion of the collection includes an 1864 Government Order handbill expanding field nursing to African American women and guaranteeing their fair pay; it also includes a handwritten 1865 receipt for payment of wages of a nurse. Also included are 2 very early portraits of women nurses, one wearing her tool belt and the other at the bedside of a patient with typhoid fever.

These early nurses shared their experiences with younger women and trained the next generation of nurses through college nursing programs and organizations such as the Red Cross, which was dedicated to aiding global communities during international crises. Around this same time, the U.S. government began expanding employment protections for nurses by founding the Nurse Corps; this collection contains a rare surviving pamphlet from 1901 establishing the Nurse Corps as well its standards for women's pay and housing. It was around this same time, in 1905, that the world renowned Red Cross also went through modernizing transitions, as founder Clara Barton passed leadership of the organization to her protégé Mabel Boardman. This collection's letter signed by William Howard Taft in 1918 praises Mabel Boardman's leadership, declaring that she has by this time "brought [the Red Cross] to its efficient organization for peace purposes" and requesting from the French ambassador that she "visit France as a Red Cross observer, to bring home to us information as to how we can improve, if possible, Red Cross functions abroad."

Women of the Nurse Corps and Red Cross were vital figures on the world stage at this time, as their medical knowledge and services would help in previously un-encountered triage, surgery, and convalescent situations across the European front. The women's cross-emblazoned uniforms were recognizable signs of comfort and protection for soldiers and civilians, allowing the women nurses the ability to cross borders in unique and unprecedented ways. The collection includes from this period a 1919 set of signed official Commission papers for a nurse, including information on her pay as well as providing her with uniform requirements. These materials come with a vintage nurse cap and Red Cross medical tool belt that would have been worn and used in emergency medical circumstances.

Red Cross and Nurse Corps members saved countless lives; and they ensured patients' physical well-being by preventing infection and overseeing wound care. These women were also responsible for providing for patients' emotional and mental convalescence. This collection contains an extensive array of original photos from this period, including 2 photo albums from 1912-1915 with over 200 photos of nurses engaging with each other and their patients at convalescent homes, a set of mat boards with 7 individual images of Red Cross nurses on the frontlines in Europe, rescuing patients and providing emergency triage care, and 13 loose photos of nurses in the field. It is an important and extensive visual document of the women's bravery and selflessness in the rescue of others.

At the time that this description was written, there are no copies of this work in American institutions and OCLC search results are at best an estimate that can vary over time. An extensive collection of visual, tactile, and written reminders of women nurses' bravery.

Young, British Medical Journal 1995; 311:1697. Heineman, "Timelines of American Women's History," p. 224, 259-60.Irwin, "Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and the Nation's Humanitarian Awakening" (2013).

Item #15142

Price: $5,500.00