America’s first trained nurse

The Florence Nightingale Museum Director was honoured recently by an invitation to Massachusetts General Hospital in the beautiful city of Boston. The main reason for the invitation was to give the keynote lecture at the unveiling of a newly commissioned portrait of Linda Richards, America’s first trained nurse. Warren and Lucia Prosperi (, the husband and wife team who created this beautiful piece, work closely from original photographs and written accounts of their subject. The portrait is now displayed in the Paul S Russell Museum, part of Massachusetts General Hospital (


Linda Richards was the first of four students to graduate from a nursing training programme at the New England Hospital for Women in 1873. Make no mistake – this very early nurse training was tough. Richards wrote: “We rose at 5.30 a.m. and left the wards at 9 p.m. to go to our beds, which were in little rooms between the wards. Each nurse took care of her ward of six patients both day and night. Many a time I got up nine times in the night; often I did not get to sleep before the next call came. We had no evenings out, and no hours for study or recreation. Every second week we were off duty one afternoon from two to five o’clock.

In 1874, The Boston Training School for Nurses started at Massachusetts General Hospital and Linda Richards was approached to become superintendent, initially she refused but was eventually persuaded. Like Florence Nightingale, Linda Richards was clearly a brilliant advocate, as she persuaded the senior hospital staff to lecture to her student nurses, providing them not only with important knowledge, but also increasing the students status within the hospital. Several doctors supplemented their lectures by allowing the student nurses to accompany the morning rounds of the wards. Although this work was important for the nurses – and the hospital – yet more importantly, it created a model of what a modern nursing school should look like.

Linda Richards arranged to visit England to enable her to observe the Nightingale system in action. Nightingale and Richards had corresponded for some time and one morning soon after her arrival in England, Richards was thrilled to be able to meet the great lady. With typical modesty, Richards wrote “It had never occurred to me that she would honor me by asking me to call upon her, so great was my surprise when I received an invitation to visit her at her home.” Richards memoirs relates an encounter that clearly had a huge emotional impact on her, being taken into the presence of a “small lady clad in black silk” who was lying on a coach (by this stage, Nightingale had been living as an invalid for some years.) Richards describes “The sweet face, with the deep blue eyes, and the beautifully shaped head” and says that meeting Nightingale was the fulfilment of her life’s ambition.

An excellent judge of character, Nightingale herself was equally impressed by Richards and offered to help her as much as she could. She wrote to Angelique Pringle, an old student of hers, who was at that time heading up the Edinburgh infirmary in Scotland, and arranged for Richards to go on a placement there as well. Nightingale wrote; “A Miss Richards, a Boston lady, training matron to the Massachusetts General Hospital, has in a very spirited manner come to us for training to herself….I have seen her, and have seldom seen anyone who struck me as so admirable. I think we have as much to learn from her as she from us.”

Richards’ remains rest in the beautiful cemetery in southern Boston: (



Nightingale for Breakfast?

We thought we knew a fair amount about Florence Nightingale, but we didn’t know that she had her own breakfast dish named after her. Kedgeree was a very popular meal for the Victorians, who adapted the Indian dish of khichri by adding fish and eggs and serving it as a hearty breakfast.


Charles Elme Francatelli was chief cook to Queen Victoria herself, later becoming chef at the Reform Club. In 1861, he published The Cook’s Guide and Housekeepers and Butler’s Assistant: A Practical Treatise on English and Foreign Cookery in All Its Branches. This contained his recipe specially concocted to honour Florence Nightingale:

Fry the boiled dry rice with a little fresh butter, nutmeg, pepper and salt ; and when quite hot, add the whites of three hard-boiled eggs shred fine, and the white parts of a dried haddock ; pile all this up lightly in a hot dish ; strew over the cone the yolks of the hard-boiled eggs previously rubbed through a wire sieve, and mixed with a little grated Parmesan cheese; garnish the rice round the base with fried croutons of bread push in the oven for five minutes—just to slightly colour the surface of a golden hue, and serve immediately.

Please let us know if you fancy creating this dish as we’d love to know what it’s like!


The Nightingale Team are Floored…

Tonight is the private view of the exhibition. Everything is ready, party dresses are hanging up in the office for the team to change into after work, wine is cooling in the fridge, RSVPs are still arriving… How nice it will be to acknowledge all our hard work, we thought, and to thank our supporters at tonight’s grand event.

But as always with life in a small museum, it is a good idea to expect the unexpected and we have just been dealing with a minor disaster on the flooring front. For the last few months, mysterious bubbles have been appearing in our lovely floor. In one area, this has erupted into a crater and we have had to rope the area off.  Today, the workmen appeared and decided that today was the day that we should tackle this issue. Decision time – should we send them away and face the fact that an area must remain roped off for the time being? Or should we let them hack away sections of the floor, releasing rubble and dust as they went?


We decided to bite the bullet and try and deal with it today – after an alarming couple of hours, the problem has been solved, at least temporarily, as the crater has been removed, a plyboard layer cut to size, and trip-proof carpet placed over the top.

 Right – can we go back to polishing the wine glasses now, please?

Object of the Month – March

As our new exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield commemorating the role nurses played during the First World War opens tomorrow, it seems fitting that March’s object of the month is from the period.

Civilian, military and VAD nurses alike felt a sense of shared identity through wearing a uniform which marked them out as contributing to the war effort, whether at the Front or at home.


These uniform stripes, kindly loaned to us by Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, belonged to Catherine Elston. Nurse Elston was a truly remarkable woman; she trained at the London Hospital in the deprived East end of the city, where she held the position of Sister. Elston subsequently worked at Poplar Hospital, before taking up a position in Bordeaux, France, and eventually becoming the    Director of the training school there.

When war broke out in August 1914, Elston joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service as a reserve. She went on to serve on one of the many ambulance trains used to ferry wounded serviceman from the Front. In our exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield you can see examples of letters and postcards Elston sent to her loved ones describing life on No1 Ambulance Train. Among the medals Elston was awarded to mark her work, was the Queen Elisabeth Medal, which recognised those who had given exceptional service to Belgium in relieving the suffering of its citizens during the First World War.

Exhibition Countdown!

We are now 48 hours away from opening the First World War nursing exhibition, and the fun is getting fast and furious! Our carefully worked out schedule for installing the exhibition has been rewritten several times, as one cancellation can create an alarming knock-on effect. But it’s been an exciting week – the agonising over the colour scheme was worthwhile as the exhibition room is now painted a lovely pale blue, with interpretation panels of a rich corn colour. The belongings of the First World War nurses are beautifully arranged in the display cases, and the archival material is up on the walls. The last thing to go up is the ten oil paintings that will form the centrepiece of the exhibition – and then we are good to go! As I write, members of the team are obsessively wiping non-existent marks of the glass of the display cases, and straightening out objects by a fraction imperceptible to the human eye.

Our top pieces of advice for installing an exhibition in a small museum are as follows:

  • 1.       Always factor in more time than you think will need. Buffer zones are your friend!
  • 2.       If lenders allow it, collect loaned items early so you have them on site.
  • 3.       Prioritise marketing above creating the display – journalists will lose interest in a millisecond and you may never get that chance of coverage again.
  • 4.       Face the fact that all other areas of your work will be seriously neglected, and just hope to catch up later on!

Keeping it in the Family

In preparing for our exhibition about First World War nursing, one of the nicest things we have found is the interest and support of the families of these brave women. The exhibition will tell the story of one field hospital in northern France, run by the Duchess of Sutherland, and we have tried to trace as many of the relatives and descendents of the people who were there as possible. I admit that we didn’t expect to find many – or even any! – family members who remembered the staff at the hospital in the oatfield. In the summer of 1915, the Duchess herself was middle-aged, as was the artist Victor Tardieu who painted the hospital camp in a set of beautiful oil paintings that form the heart of our exhibition.

How wrong we were! First of all, the dealer who sold us the paintings, the erudite and extremely kind Philip Athill of Abbott & Holder in Museum Street put us in touch with the grandchildren of the surgeon who had worked at the camp. His grandchildren (one of whom is a doctor herself) remembered their grandfather clearly and fondly. Best of all, they have loaned us two albums that contain numerous photographs of the hospital camp taken by their grandfather, a keen amateur photographer. These have added a wonderful dimension to the exhibition, as many of the photographs capture everyday life of the nurses and their lives at the camp.

We are also thrilled at the enthusiasm of the family of the Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland. Her granddaughter, the Countess of Sutherland, kindly shared her memories of her grandmother, with whom she was very close. It was a real thrill to meet someone who knew well Millicent Duchess of Sutherland, and who was able to confirm that she was indeed an extremely strong-willed and determined person!

Exciting loans for First World War Exhibition

Wellcome’s Professional Nurse’s Diary 1913 – 14 – Produced by Burroughs Wellcome & Co.

The Florence Nightingale Museum team have had an exciting morning visiting the Museum at the Royal London Hospital and collecting the wonderful items about First World War nursing they are kindly lending us for next month’s exhibition. All of the objects have such a strong historic resonance, but this little book really caught my eye and repays closer inspection.

This is an ordinary pocket diary for a working nurse, only 15 cm high so it would easily slip in a bag or a pocket. The flyleaf tells us it belonged to Lillie Radcliffe, and her address was Nurses’ Home, London Hospital, Whitechapel, E. Perhaps the winter of 1913 – 14 was similar to the winter of 2013 – 14, as she has written down the side of the flyleaf “Without sunshine, a girl withers.” As well as the usual pages for appointments, this little book contains chapters to help the professional nurse, on subjects such as Midwifery and First Aid for Nurses. Being a production of Burroughs Wellcome, it is also liberally scattered with advertisements for their products, mainly from their famous Tabloid range.

Perhaps most intriguing are the notes Lillie made herself at the back. She diligently noted down all the books she read over the course of the year (ranging from The Little White Bird by J M Barrie to She by Rider Haggard.) Lillie has also noted down all her plans for her Christmas shopping, so we know that she intended to buy Mother an ebony brush and comb, and Gertie was to receive a Duchess set and table centre.

The difficulty is we now have to choose which page to have it open in when it goes in display when the exhibition opens on March 13th! So many of the pages are fascinating it will be very hard to select one. Our thanks to Jonathan Evans at the Museum at the Royal London,-history-and-archives/the-royal-london-museum/ for this window in a nurse’s everyday life 100 years ago.