Tag Archives: museums

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 (http://prosperistudio.com), 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 (http://www.massgeneral.org/museum)


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: (http://www.foresthillscemetery.com).



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?

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!

Object of the Month – February

This month our object of the week is an army spirit stove from the stores here at the Florence Nightingale Museum.Image

This stove was made in London by A. Barrett & Sons. Thanks to the address stamp on the lid of the leather case, we can date the stove fairly accurately to circa 1878-1910; as A. Barrett & Sons only traded at 63-64 Piccadilly between those years.

It is likely that the stove belonged to an army officer and would have been used to boil water for drinking, and possibly to cook small quantities of food. It’s impossible to state for definite what military campaign this spirit stove was used in; however the dates would fit the two Boer Wars, which were fought between 1880-1881 and then 1899-1902, by the British Empire and the Dutch in South Africa.

While army officers may have been equipped with individual spirit stoves for personal use, by and large the British Army was still reliant on the type of field stove designed by French celebrity chef Alexis Soyer during the Crimean War. Indeed the ‘Soyer stove’ remained in use up until the Second World War, and there was not a single organisation responsible for the feeding of troops until the foundation of the Army Catering Corps in 1941.

Object of the Month – January


This object from the Florence Nightingale Museum’s stores – is Nightingale’s  foot warmer,  which would have come in very handy in the days before central heating!

Upon her return from the Crimea, Nightingale suffered from brucellosis, commonly known as ‘Crimean fever’.

Brucellosis is a highly contagious disease caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals. Symptoms include muscular pain and sweating; and if untreated brucellosis can lead to chronic conditions such as spondylodiscitis of the lumbar spine (inflammation of one or more vertebrae and the intervertebral disc space), and sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joint).

Nightingale certainly suffered from ill health for the much of her life, following her time in the Crimea.  It seems plausible that she could have suffered from one or both of these chronic conditions, as a complication of her brucellosis.

Nightingale would have used her foot warmer during carriage journeys. Travelling by carriage may seem romantic and appealing to us in the twenty-first century, but in reality they would be draughty and often rather uncomfortable for long journeys. This foot warmer would bring Nightingale some much needed relief when travelling.

The foot warmer is made of tin, with two wooden footrests on the top. It has a hinged lid, and a well where the charcoal or hot stone would be placed to provide the heat.


The foot warmer was found with Nightingale’s things at her home in South Street, London following her death in 1910; therefore it is likely it was in use towards the end of her life.