New role for Professor Christine Hallett

Prof Christine Hallett

Professor Christine Hallett has recently been appointed as Professor of Nursing History. She has written a number of books on the subject and her latest volume is due for publication in December, which will explore the story and life of famous Great War nurse Edith Cavell. On Saturday 10 November, Professor Hallett will be the keynote speaker in Wakefield, where she will talk about the life of Wakefield World War One nurse Nellie Spindler.

New Book: “Always Caring: The story of the Belgian Nurses during WW1”

The historiography of the First World War and nursing pays nearly no attention to the work of the Belgian nurses during the Great War. This book adresses research questions relating to who these nurses were and what they were doing during the war. Therefore different sub-questions were asked. How many nurses were trained during the war? What were their main nursing practices? Were they organised as a professional group? What was the image of the Belgian nurses? How did the profession evolved immediately after the war? By answering these questions their story is told and the history of nursing in Belgium during the First World War is reconstructed.

For centuries nursing in Belgium was the monopoly of nuns. This changed at the end of the nineteenth century. Schools for secularised nurses started in Liège (1882), Brussels (1887), Antwerp (1902) and again Brussels (three schools in 1907). In 1908 the government created a certificate for nurses, after a mainly theoretical schooling of one year. Although catholic and medical circles were highly sceptical, these new trainings became very successful. The different courses resulted in 4,477 trained nurses at the beginning of the war.

During the war, these courses simply continued. They were not confronted with obstructions by the occupying power. Schools were also created in London and Calais, with the aim to prepare nurses for Belgian military hospitals. 1,792 Belgian nurses were educated that way. At least 800 nurses, who were trained before and during the war, were involved in Belgian military hospitals.
One of the main questions of this study was about the practices of Belgian front nurses during the war. They suffered physically and mentally in their contacts with wounded and starving soldiers. A lot of nurses became exhausted and suffered  illness. Some of them were obliged to stop working by the pressure of the war. 34 nurses didn’t survive the war. Based on an analysis of more than 200 files, a profile of the front nurses was calculated: their average age was 31 years, 10 months and 28 days, and their average seniority 2 years, 8 months and 28 days.

During the war, attempts were made to organise the nurses and so trying to shape their professional identity. The main instigator was Marie Elisabeth Belpaire, who already created a women’s association before the war. In 1916 she started a monthly review especially for Belgian nurses in non-occupied Belgium, with the aim to stimulate a professional orgnisation. Her efforts met with no success. At the end of the war, an organisation for the moral support of nurses was created by the wife of Belgian minister Paul Hymans.

The building of the image of Belgian nurses during the war looked rather diffuse. The main image in nurses’ personal testimonies was that of the nurse as mother and as an example of care. There were also negative images, which depicted nurses as prostitutes or nymphomaniacs. The image of the white angel, which dominated the discourse after the war, was not present during the conflict. This proves that it was a post-war construction.

Finally, the analysis to investigate if post-war developments were influenced by the war resulted in an answer that wasn’t unidimensional. The nursing schools had problems with their recruitment immediately after the war and didn’t profit from the rather positive image of the war nurse. In 1921, the government created new legislation on the training of nursing, which took into account the war experiences. Stimulated mainly by front nurses, a professional organisation for nurses was created in 1922, although it was not an easy task to fight for their rights against the persistent scepticism of the medical world.

Did the war have an emancipatory effect on the nurses’ profession? The answer is rather negative. During and after the war nurses stayed in a subordinate relation with the doctors, the nursing schools couldn’t copy their pre-war success and their image wasn’t very well-known by a large part of the population. The agency of the Belgian nurses during and immediately after the war wasn’t very high.

Sometimes curing, most of the time relieving, always caring’ was mentioned on the medal of nurses in L’Océan, the biggest front hospital in non-occupied Belgium. It wasn’t easy for Belgian nurses to fulfill this triple mission during the four years of the war. But different sources, especially the war diary of the Belgian nurse Jane de Launoy, proved that they achieved this most of the time. The care – influenced by the catholic roots of nursing in Belgium – was the most important element. ‘Always caring’ is therefore the best summary of the work of Belgian nurses during the First World War.

Luc de Munck


Doctor, I refuse to do this

In 2015, nurses in the Netherlands received a new professional code. This was a breakthrough. No longer were there four separate codes but only a single ethical point of departure on the basis of which care could be administrated. All nurses can recognise themselves in it. This is our profession, and this is the way we perform it. One might ask why it took so long.

Ethical indications
Around 1900, there was also a kind of professional code in force. It was called ethical indications for the nurse, based on the fundamental principles as formulated by Florence Nightingale in her “Notes on Nursing” from 1859. The first Dutch handbooks were written by physicians and always started with ethical rules. Physicians knew perfectly well what should be demanded of nurses. Obedience was first and foremost here. From 1910 on, when the first clinical nurse managers started to write handbooks themselves, they also devoted ample attention to ethics in nursing. In the 1930s, the 10 commandments by nurse educator Melk were popular. Even today, they are well worth reading. Obviously, their wording is old-fashioned, but the essence is the same: good and civilised nursing, through the use of heart, head and hands. After 1930, when nursing was gradually divided through the pillarisation of Dutch society, protestant and catholic leaders each wrote their own professional codes, based on the Christian faith and intended for their own circles.

But what is the advantage of a national professional code for the nurses themselves? I wish we would have had such a professional code in the 1970s. As a nurse fresh from school, I worked at the psychiatric ward of a medium-sized hospital. Without any knowledge of psychiatric nursing, I was scheduled to assist a psychiatrist in the weekly electroshock treatments. Every Tuesday morning, some 10 patients came in to undergo this treatment. After one morning of this duty, it was clear to me that it was an inhuman treatment. Without any form of sedation or compassion, electrodes were placed on the temples of depressed patients, who were then subjected to a degrading epileptic seizure. I was shocked. When I was again scheduled to perform this duty, I refused. The serving psychiatrist was beside himself over such disobedience. He assured me that my refusal to assist him meant my dismissal. I was obviously taken aback by that, but decided to pay no heed to the threat. ‘Doctor, I refuse to do this,’ was my reaction. I was not dismissed and there even was an adjustment of the procedure surrounding the electroshock treatment.

Professional code

What a support it would have been if I had been able to appeal to a universal professional code. If I had been able to say that I refused because it was my duty as a nurse “not to endanger the health and safety of the patient”, as the code states. How great it is that such a universal professional code is now in place and that nurses can appeal to it.

Nannie Wiegman
Florence Nightingale Instituut

Nurse Stieltjes’ Doll

The history of nursing is closely linked to women’s rights. At least, in most European countries. In the Netherlands, the connection is tenuous at best. There, the archives yield no names of nurses who were members of both the women’s movement and a nursing organisation. There are just a few exceptions, such as Jeanne van Lanschot Hubrecht. The reason for this is the subject of my research. I was pleasantly surprised when there was yet another link between nursing and women’s rights, from 1898.

A silver medal

It all started with a telephone call from a district nurse of my acquaintance. She asked me to come to a village in the province of Brabant. Having arrived at a small farm, I followed the district nurse inside. In the gloom, an old lady was sitting in an old-fashioned armchair. We introduced ourselves and had a cup of tea. I had no idea what was in store for me. The old lady asked me: “Are you the author of the article on nurse Antje Stieltjes?” Yes, I had indeed written such an article. In 1998, a group of colleagues and I had issued a collection, about the centennial commemoration of the National Exhibition of Women’s Labour. This Exhibition took place in 1898 on the occasion of the accession to the throne of Queen Wilhelmina. This was such an event that the Dutch Women’s movement organised an exhibition in The Hague. It was a huge success. In conclusion of the exhibition, a committee of distinguished ladies organised a contest for products of women in the Netherlands who had made, embroidered, conceived or developed something extraordinary: “send them to us and be awarded with a silver medal bearing the likeness of Queen Wilhelmina”. Countless women went to work and send in their products. Sadly, none of these products has been preserved, until 1998.

Nurse Stieltjes’ Doll

In the archive, I had discovered that nurse Antje Stieltjes, district nurse by profession, had won this silver medal in 1898. She had developed a new bandage for men suffering from severe eczema, the so-called Labourer’s Bandage. Thereupon, she had bought a doll, had bandaged it with her Labourer’s Bandage and had sent it to the contest’s jury in a shoebox. In September 1898, Antje received notice that she had won the much-coveted medal.

The old lady looked me in the eye and said, “I am so glad that you have saved nurse Stieltjes from oblivion through this article, since Antje was my stepmother, who adopted me in 1905. And due to the article, I finally know what is in that shoe box in the attic.” The district nurse stepped out of the room for a moment and returned with a box, which the old lady then handed to me. When I opened the box, I got goose bumps. There was nurse Stieltjes’ doll, from 1898, fitted with the Labourer’s Bandage, delicate, tiny but intact. I sat there for minutes, looking at it breathlessly. The silver medal and photographs of nurse Stieltjes were also in the box. I safely returned the doll to the box and we said our emotional goodbyes.

Two weeks later, I received the obituary notice. The old lady had passed away and had bequeathed the doll, the medal and the photographs to the Florence Nightingale Institute. The Nursing Collection had acquired another important piece and there was indeed a link between nursing and the women’s movement in the Netherlands.

Nannie Wiegman
Florence Nightingale Instituut

Call for Papers: “Bads” in healthcare

Call for Papers – deadline: 30th of November 2017 (extended until 20th December 2018)

The European Conference of the Swiss Society of the History of Health and Nursing (GPG-HSS) in Cooperation with the European Association for the History of Nursing (EAHN) and the European Journal for Nursing History, Theory and Ethics (ENHE), will take place on the 21st and 22nd of June 2018 at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), School of Health, Winterthur (Switzerland).

The conference calls for contributions from scholars who can present research relating to negative experiences of and with health professionals such as nurses, midwives and therapists. Their starting point should be the individual or the collective experience of health professionals and/or of patients and family members with bad care. They should find answers to these questions: What shaped experience of “bads” as the actors addressed them? Whom did they make responsible for their negative experiences? How did they explain them? What did they claim? How did the actors involved deal with the negative experiences? How did those made responsible for “bads” respond to re-establish their standards of good healthcare, reputation and trustworthiness? How did this process contribute to reforms in healthcare?

The following fields of research are suggested:

  1. patients and patient’s organisations: rights of patients and family members; complaints about “bads” in professional health care; goals for compensation and/or improvement; strategies to gain influence; networking for cooperation with health professionals.
  2. professional standards: “good” in healthcare turns “bad” or vice versa; theory and ethics of “bads”; norms of professional competences; the significance of research to negative care experiences; development of methods for quality improvements.
  3. everyday “bads” of professionals in healthcare: narratives of “bads” in care relations with patients and relatives, superiors, colleagues; trans-professional cooperation; the search for reforms in practice.
  4. managing “bads”: the institutionalisation and role of ethics committees; surveys and the steering of patient’s and collaborator’s satisfaction.
  5. Care in public: media scandals; ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ in care; healthcare in court; effects of public discussions for healthcare improvements.
  6. The quest for historical research: victims turn into witnesses; the role and work of committees of inquiry; integration or not of the blamed professionals; development reconciliation and of commemorative cultures for “bads” in past healthcare.

To participate at the conference, please apply with an abstract of 400 words maximum, which includes title, research question, methods, and sources used as well as results, before the
30th of November 2017 (extended until 20th of December 2017) via email to The Conference Committee will disclose its decisions relating to the acceptance or non-acceptance of papers by the 15th of January 2018. The spoken language at the conference will be English. A slot of 30 minutes per paper will be permitted, and papers will be allotted in threes, to 90-minute panels. A maximum of 20 minutes should be used for each paper; the remainder of the time is reserved for discussion. The fundraising for the conference is still ongoing so that the reimbursement of the costs of accommodation, travel and meals cannot yet be guaranteed. Please send any enquiries to

Call for Abstracts: European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics

The CfA for the special theme of the European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics is related to the International Conference “‘Bads’ in healthcare: Negative experience as an impetus to reform in nineteenth and twentieth centuries”, 21/22.6.2018 in Winterthur, Switzerland, see further information :

The aim of the Second Issue of the European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics is to enlarge our understanding of how nurses were interlinked with “bads” in healthcare, of how they addressed and responded to negative experiences and how they contributed to the reform of healthcare in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics calls for contributions from scholars who can present research relating to negative experiences of and with nurses. Their starting point should be the individual or the collective experience of nurses, patients or family members with bad care. They should find answers to these questions: What shaped experience of “bads” as the actors addressed them? Whom did they make responsible for their negative experiences? How did they explain them? What did they claim? How did the actors involved deal with the negative experiences? How did those made responsible for “bads” respond to re-establish their standards of good healthcare, reputation and trustworthiness? How did this process contribute to reforms in healthcare?

Please note the following remarks on the concept of the European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics:

The journal creates a dialogue between the history and the ethics of nursing while providing new impulses for advancing the subfields of the history as well as the ethics of nursing. Historians are asked to include the ethical dimension of the topic into their research project; researchers interested in ethics are requested to reflect on the historical dimensions of their projects. This does not mean, however, that articles on ethics should be preceded by a historical overview in the style of a manual. Rather the latest developments and socio-political debates that have led to the current issues in the ethics of nursing should be put in their historical context and be used in the analysis. Likewise papers on the history of nursing should address ethical questions within the historical context or refer to current issues in the ethics of nursing. The journal publishes research both on European History and the history of the reciprocal relationships and entanglements of European and non-European socie- ties.

The journal only publishes original contributions. The authors agree when submitting their script that their text has not already been submitted or published elsewhere.

Please submit your abstract (max 500 words) in English and separately a short CV until November 30th, 2017 to Prof. Dr. Susanne Kreutzer and PD Dr. Karen Nolte.

New Website for EAHN

The EAHN website is getting a makeover! Using a WordPress framework the site will be more dynamic than the old one. It has the details of all of the constituent organisations and contains information about nursing history events from around the world, massive open online courses, and on he blog pages there will be details of calls for papers and details about conferences as they come through.

Please feel free to leave a comment on the post or to contact us via the Contact page.

Call for Abstracts: “Tracing nurses’ footsteps: Nursing and the Tides of Change”

JUNE 15 – 17, 2018, HALIFAX, NS.
Hosted by Nursing History NS Society

Where has nursing come from? What have been the ups and downs, trials and tribulations along the journey? How have social, political and economic forces influenced the history of nursing? How were challenges met, and with passing or lasting impact? Who were the nurses that provided the foundational values and vision that established present realities, and challenges confronting nursing today? What can we take from history as it relates to the future expansion of the profession?

The content of the abstract should reflect components of the program theme showing how, when and where nurses’ footsteps influenced the progressive changes in health care, policy, education and clinical practice.

Abstracts on other subjects related to nursing and healthcare history would be welcomed and considered.

Please submit a one page abstract (350 words max.) and a one page CV for consideration to: Dr. Margaret Scaia

Mailing Address:
HSD A 442, School of Nursing
University of Victoria
PO Box 1700 STN CSC
Victoria BC V8W 2Y2
Due date for submission is December 15, 2017,
Conference registration fee: Regular $230, Student $115
Student travel awards application will be available this year (details forthcoming)
For more details visit our website.