Comprehensive study of Nightingale’s influence unveiled

31 May 2012

On May 4th, the Bloomberg Nursing community gathered to celebrate the official launch of Nursing before Nightingale, 1815-1899, co- written by Carol Helmstadter, adjunct professor, and Judith Godden. The historical text examines the transformation of nursing in England from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the emergence of the Nightingale nurse as the standard model in the 1890s.

Work on the first draft of the manuscript began in 1990. The project was initially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, but budget constraints eventually led to the discontinuance of support. Researching Florence Nightingale resulted in a number of discoveries about the renowned nurse as well as the work conditions. She is considered the founder of modern nursing, having combined the two major reforms informing nursing at the time: the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul model and the doctor-driven ‘ward system’, advocating the importance of nurses in this setting. “The system we know as the Nightingale Nurse is the end result rather than the start,” pointed out Helmstadter.

Reading a passage from the newly published book, Helmstadter intertwined additional facts and anecdotes, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention. Dean Sioban Nelson applauded the work’s contribution to advancing our knowledge of the field, and expressed the view that it holds the potential to help people rethink former assumptions about Nightingale’s influence on the nursing profession. “Easy to read, well-written and scholarly,” the text demonstrates how nursing was essential to many medical developments.

From the publisher, Ashgate:
“Recent historians of nursing have ascribed the nineteenth century makeover of nursing to two causes: medicalization by hospital doctors who found the old independent nurse practitioners a threat, and the inculcation of middle class values by philanthropists. By contrast this volume demonstrates that the real cause of nursing reform was the development of the new scientific medicine which emphasized supportive therapeutics and, as a result, became heavily dependent on skilled nursing for successful implementation of these treatments. The pre-industrial work ethic of the old hospital nurses could not meet the requirements of the new medicine. Recruitment and retention of working-class persons was also extremely difficult because nursing in the early nineteenth century formed the lowest rung of the occupation of domestic service and was a job of last resort. It was still more difficult to recruit educated women or ‘ladies.’ There were intricate interactions between the requirements of clinical nursing under hospital medicine’s new regime on the one hand, and on the other, the contemporary ideal of a lady, class structure, economic realities, the reformation of manners, and the detrimental impact of violent denominational controversies in a very religious society. This book, therefore, will be of great value to those studying the history of medicine, labour, religion, gender studies and the rise of a respectable society in the nineteenth century.”