Friday, 12 May 2017

'A most peculiar bird...'

This week, Archivist Louise celebrates International Nurses Day with a spotlight on a resource that charts the history of nurse education from the first half of the twentieth century right up to the present day…

Happy International Nurses’ Day 2017! Since 1974, the International Council of Nurses has celebrated the amazing achievements of the nursing profession throughout the world. 12 May was chosen since it’s also the birthday of Florence Nightingale – whom I’m sure needs no introduction, but you can read more about our Florence Nightingale letters here. Around each International Nurses’ Day in the UK, there’s a service at Westminster Abbey in London, in which a symbolic lamp is passed, and more local celebrations in hospitals and health organisations. There are also annual events across the world (including these impressive displays in China).

We’ve no shortage of nurse-related records at LHSA – in fact, we have much more about nurses than we have for doctors! We’ve nursing ephemera, badges (like the ones featured on our new postcards – shameless plug!):

One of our new colour postcards!

… staff registers, photographs (although not always with named nurses), wage books and training records up to the early 1960s (when nurse training began to be re-organised from individual hospitals to wider local institutions – the Lothian Colleges). In fact, there’s a handy source list if you’re wanting to look into nursing records here.

One nursing history resource that I’d love to highlight, though, is The Pelican, the magazine of what is now The Pelican Nurses’ League, an organisation made up of nurses trained in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. But why a Pelican?:

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh nurses with an extraordinary patient! (LHSA photograph collection)
The Pelican had long been a symbol of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, appearing on its crest. Shown as a female plucking its breast to nourish its young with its blood, it became synonymous with nurture and self-sacrifice, a fitting emblem for the work of the Infirmary as a charitable institution, and as a symbol of the RIE Nurse Training School (founded in 1872), appearing on its badge from 1917.
Pelican badge, Registered Nurse (LHSA object collection, O254)
Nursing badges were worn with pride, a very visual reminder of years of (often extremely challenging) training to meet rigorous professional standards. Back in 2011, we carried out the Unsung Heroes project with jewellery and silversmith students from Edinburgh College of Art to create new badges from our original archival holdings, taking inspiration from oral histories from retired nurses, recorded by the students themselves. You can hear some of the recordings online, here.

The first issue of The Pelican appeared in 1927, and was founded by the Student Nurses’ Association. The foreword of the first edition (written by the Lady Superintendent – the ‘Head’ -  of Nurses, Annie Warren Gill), welcomed the magazine, ‘which aims at reflecting and bringing together the many sides of a nurse’s life, and which will keep the old in touch with the new.’

Cover and first foreword from The Pelican,  1927-1928 (LHB1/190A/1)
Throughout its life, The Pelican has focused on nurse training rather than life as a qualified nurse. The PTS (Preliminary Training School) is often mentioned, where new recruits were educated before learning on the wards, along with ‘pros’ (not ‘professionals’, but ‘probationers’, who might be called student nurses now). The first magazine was a mixture of official news and events, along with anecdotes and humour:

Humour from the pages of the first edition of The Pelican, 1927-1928 (LHB1/109A/1)
'The Perfect Nurse' strikes a typical tone in early issues of The Pelican – of squinting up at an ideal, angelic nurse, but never quite reaching. It's a reminder that the (then) women who washed the bedpans, changed bandages and (as their training went on) administered treatments and aided operations were flesh and blood human beings doing their best against often unrealistic expectations that they carried with them as new starters.

A less well-known Pelican badge, that of the State Enrolled Nurse (LHSA object collection, O258). 
In 1935, the magazine recorded the suggestion of starting an ‘Edinburgh Royal Infirmary League of Nurses’, and that The Pelican be its official magazine, linking those who wore the Pelican badge. E F Bladon was elected the first President of The League at its first meeting in June 1935, and in 1936, The Pelican changed its cover to reflect its new allegiance:

Covers of The Pelican showing its name-change, and the first page of the new League edition (LHB1/109A/11, 12)
The Pelican changed its contents as the nature of nursing changed – in the 1940s, it appeared as a ‘News Sheet’ to reflect both wartime shortages and shifting priorities:

The Pelican in the Second World War, and news of nurses serving in wartime (LHB1/109A/16)
Teaching was changing too, as this 1957 feature on the new Teaching Unit shows:

Feature om the new teaching facilities for probationers (LHB1/109A/33)
In 1972, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh School of Nursing celebrated its centenary, marked with a special issue of The Pelican:

Special edition of The Pelican, 1972 (LHB1/109A/49)
I was heartened to see a feature by the Infirmary Archivist, answering queries about the Pelican crest in ‘most correct and proper’ terms (how else???!!):

Article by Pam Eaves-Walton, RIE Archivist (LHB1/109A/49)
 The Pelican continues to publish to this day, and the 2017 edition has just been sent to LHSA for the archive. As well as administrative matters (for example, member news, notices and meeting minutes), there are also historical features based on the editor's research in LHSA and recollections from nurses in particular specialist wards, such as Norman Dott’s Department of Surgical Neurology and the Renal Unit, where the first kidney transplant from a live donor in the UK was performed in 1960.

Appropriately for International Nurses' Day, modern editions of The Pelican also feature news on the Pelican Award, funds awarded to students on Adult Nursing Programmes in selected Lothian universities in support of electives (placements to supply experience of nursing outside their own region, but anywhere in the world) and to Registered Nurses towards funding research projects or professional development. In 2016, seventeen student electives were funded, from Birmingham to China, Sri Lanka, Australia, Tanzania and The Philippines – a truly international story for International Nurses Day 2017!

If you were the proud owner of a Pelican badge (according to the League records that we hold, Pelican badges were being issued up until at least summer 1988) and would like to join the Pelican League, new members are always welcome – you can find more details on the League’s website.

A probationer's life has always been a hard one...

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