In Search of Sympathy

Stereotypes and Stiff Upper Lips in Interwar Nursing



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About the Book

In 1939, the British journal Nursing Mirror launched a competition to find the “typical” nurse. Over the following weeks, hundreds of nurses submitted a portrait photograph to try and meet the journal’s criteria. “This is not a beauty competition in the ordinary sense of the word.” The editor stressed, “It is to find the typical nurse—the nurse whose features suggest not merely beauty of line, but professional capacity and human sympathy”. Was it even possible to show these things in one simple photograph? The Nursing Mirror judges certainly thought so. The competition winners—and other entries published regularly during 1939—provide an interesting lens through which to explore inter-war stereotypes of nursing in Britain.

From this starting point on the eve of the Second World War, this work looks back through the complex—and often conflicting—representations of British nursing in the inter-war era, from the impact of the Nursing Registration Act of 1919 to the romanticized figure of Edith Cavell and the lingering specter of the angelic Nightingale nurse. It examines how attitudes to gender and class influenced representations of nursing, and how those attitudes themselves changed during this period. It considers why the visual image of the nurse was so prominent in portrayals of nursing, and perhaps most importantly of all, what impact those stereotypes of nursing had for those at the vanguard of a fledgling profession.

This e-single originally appeared as a chapter in The Nurse in Popular Media: Critical Essays edited by Marcus K. Harmes, Barbara Harmes and Meredith A. Harmes. The electronic version of this book chapter is an open access work licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Users are allowed to share, with proper attribution, the unaltered chapter for non-commercial purposes. All other rights are reserved.

About the Author(s)

Sarah Chaney is a historian of health and medicine with a background in museum curation and research interests in the history of psychiatry and nursing. She is a research fellow at Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions, and Events and Exhibitions Manager at the Royal College of Nursing. Her monograph, Psyche on the Skin (2017), explores the history of self-injury as a psychiatric category. Her research is on the history of compassion in nursing.

Bibliographic Details

Format: E-Single
Pages: 17
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography
Copyright Date: 2021
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4794-4
Imprint: McFarland

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