Women as voluntary and professional military nurses in Great Britain, 1854-1914

Summers, Anne (1986). Women as voluntary and professional military nurses in Great Britain, 1854-1914. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000de51


After the Crimean War, civilian initiatives were largely responsible for introducing female nurses into military hospitals to supplement and supervise male orderlies. The early difficulties of the new nursing service were similar to those experienced by middle and upper-class women reformers of civilian hospitals. The first female corps was almost independent of military commandants and medical officers; 'lady superintendents' made unwelcome attempts to impose the social norms and work patterns of upper-class households. The medical officers achieved full authority over the female nurses only in 1885. Although reluctant to mobilise female nurses for colonial warfare, under pressure from civilian relief agencies army medical authorities did so after 1879. Army nurses were not prominent public figures; nevertheless, British and foreign war nursing attracted considerable civilian interest, and for some women became a symbol of their right to political participation and equal citizenship. The institution in 1883 of the first national decoration for women, the Royal Red Cross, further legitimated heroism in war as a female ambition. The Royal British Nurses' Association's attempt to form a military nursing reserve indicates that many trained nurses saw war service as conferring the public status necessary to their campaign for state registration. The manpower crisis of the Boer War 1899 - 1902 convinced officials that army hospitals required more female personnel; the success of subsequent drives to recruit trained nurses and voluntary first-alders as military reserve nurses and auxiliaries on the eve of World War I owed much to interests, enthusiasms and ambitions generated among women in the nineteenth century. The early history of British female army nursing demonstrates the influence of civilian expectations upon military institutions; developments at the turn of the century suggest that it was through military nursing that civilian women were militarised.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions