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Editorial – Nursing: Traditions, Ruptures and Specialisations

  1. Prof. Dr. Susanne Kreutzer ORCID iD Muenster School of Health, University for Applied Sciences Muenster
  2. Prof. Dr. Karen Nolte ORCID iD Institut für Geschichte und Ethik der Medizin, Ruprecht Karls Universität Heidelberg


1. New Section: Lost & Found

What does a suitcase with glass objects and a strange apparatus have to do with nursing history? The photo for the third issue of the European Journal for Nursing History and Ethics, illustrates a new section in our journal. Under ‘Lost & Found’, objects, texts, pictures or other material remains (e. g. vaccination certificates) relevant to nursing history can be presented and scientifically analysed. The objects in this issue originated in the context of outpatient care. Sabine Schlegelmilch traces the history of a suitcase containing cupping glasses and a high-frequency electrotherapy device (known as a ‘violet ray’) that was passed down from generation to generation in a family – from mother as midwife to daughter as nurse. The precise analysis of the history of the object shows that the practices of nurses and midwives, but also of other, non-medical, healers were by no means clearly demarcated from one another. Heike Krause sheds light on the ‘Charlottenschrank’, which was commonly to be found in southwestern Germany. This was a cabinet that was usually placed in parsonages and contained various nursing utensils, which were lent to the local population. It was intended to help improve nursing care for the population, especially in communities that could not afford a parish nurse.

2. Issue – Nursing: Traditions, Ruptures and Specialisations

The articles for the main section of the issue are based on contributions from the International Conference on the History of Nursing organised by the Italian Nurses' Association/Nursing History Group in Florence, Italy, February 13–15, 2020. Selected other contributions have been added. Due to the very broad range of topics covered at the conference, this issue does not follow the usual organisation into themed and open sections.

Alison Fell and Claire Chatterton turn their attention to nursing in the First World War. Fell examines the ethical dilemmas that arose from the care of prisoners of war. How did nationalist images and narratives address the relationship between nurses and ‘enemy’ patients, and how did trained and volunteer nurses process their experiences in diaries, letters, and memoirs? The care of soldiers with facial injuries at Queen's Hospital, Sidcup, the major centre for maxillo-facial and plastic surgery in the UK, is the focus of Chatterton's article. She highlights both the specific nursing care practices with their ethical dilemmas and the contribution of nurses to the development of the new specialty. Sue Hawkins also looks at specialisations in nursing, specifically the beginnings of paediatric nursing in England. She examines the work of Dr Charles West and Lady Superintendent Catherine Wood at the first inpatient hospital for sick children in England, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. West and Wood laid the groundwork for the development of a new kind of nurse specifically trained to care for sick children.

Sioban Nelson and Fruzsina Müller turn to confessional nursing traditions with very different approaches. Nelson shows once again how fruitful a material culture perspective is for nursing history. Using the example of 19th-century amateur portraits of the first patron saint of nursing, Fabiola, she demonstrates both the longevity and political utility of idealised female piety. Fabiola's immense popularity in 19th-century fiction and visual culture simultaneously showed women a way to engage with the world as nurses and to live respected lives. While Nelson deals with the cultural impact of a Catholic ideal for women in the 19th century, Müller turns to the hitherto little-noticed history of Protestant deaconesses in the German Democratic Republic, using the Leipzig Deaconess House as an example. On the one hand, she sheds light on the labour law status of deaconesses in a socialist country, and on the other hand, she asks how the declining number of deaconesses in nursing and the community was dealt with.

We thank Anna La Torre, Cecilia Sironi and the Italian Nurses’ Association/Nursing History Group for organising the conference and for the good collaboration.



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European Journal for Nursing
History and Ethics (ENHE)

Official Publication of the
European Association for
the History of Nursing

ISSN 2628-4375