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Home > News and events > More news > New book tells the history of nursing
05/07/10

New book tells the history of nursing

Black and white historic photograph of nurses at St George's HospitalA new book telling nurses' first-hand accounts of life on the wards of St George's Hospital over the last 80 years has been launched.

The book - Nurses' Voices, Memories of Nursing at St George's London (1930-1990) - is an oral history of nursing since 1929 which tells the stories of nurses who trained and worked at St George's Hospital and its partner medical school, St George's, University of London, from 1929 onwards. It has been released in the International Year of the Nurse, a celebration of nursing's enormous contribution to world health, and is based on 1,000 hours of recorded interviews with 130 nurses. Through their memories, they provide a narrative through the history of modern nursing.

Nurses' Voices project manager, Carol McCubbin of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, says the book is a valuable record of several generations of nursing at St George's.

“This was a really fascinating project and it has brought out so many wonderful stories. St George's has always been at the forefront of nursing, and it's been very interesting to discover how changes to national policy were implemented at the hospital and adopted into the working culture.”

Carol added: “As well as all the stories, we've managed to build up an archive of uniforms, medals and other bits and pieces that people have given us.”

Black and white historic photograph of a nurse with a  young patient at St George's HospitalEach chapter of the book tackles a different aspect of life as a nurse, including training, uniforms, life on the wards, social life, disasters and epidemics, and changes to clinical practice.

The book covers upheavals in the National Health Service and the development of new nursing practices. It shows how much the profession has changed since the days of the military-style hierarchy of the matron system and the frilly, laced caps, starched collars and aprons of the old uniform. And it reveals how nurses dealt with the Second World War and disasters such as the Clapham rail crash.

Among the figures remembered in the book are Muriel Powell, whose appointment as St George's matron in 1947 was 'sniffed at' by many among the medical establishment, as she was just 32. Made a dame in 1968 for services to nursing, she is remembered fondly by many nurses in the book as an inspiring, wise, kind and humble figure.

There are also reminiscences of 'very plump' Matron Hanks from the 1940s, who held court at her desk at the hospital accompanied by two Pekinese dogs. Her advice to one nurse was that she “must do everything for love, it must come from the heart”, and she conducted job interviews by asking applicants whether they liked rice pudding, what they thought of the British Empire, and whether they believed in the 'life force'.

An audio CD accompanies the book. Nurses' Voices, Memories of Nursing at St George's London (1930-1990) is available to purchase from:

To read the BBC's coverage of the book and listen to an audio recording of some of the nurses' stories visit When Pekinese dogs helped MatronOpens new window