Nineteenth Century Nursing

An advertisement for Matron in 1834 included the following:

The candidates must be free from the burden of children and the care of a family and not above the age of 50 years and produce certificates of their ages – the salary is £50 per annum and Board and Washing in the house’.

Up to 1824 (when the hospital was extended) only four nurses were employed (one of each ward) plus occasional ‘night watchers’ when required.

By the middle of the 19th cent. Nurses’ wages had risen to £15 per annum.

Nursing in the 19th century

In the early 19th Century, many nurses were elderly and had already survived diseases like typhus and smallpox. Even with natural immunity to these diseases, the death rate among nurses could be high. The hospital tried to recruit younger nurses and those who could read and write, but this proved difficult.

The Influence of Florence Nightingale

In 1865 George Humphry at Addenbrooke’s took the initiative in nursing reform, unlike many other hospitals of the time, and suggested that employment of ‘a better class of nurses’ and later that year Paget announced the appointment of ‘four nurses of a superior kind trained at St Thomas’ Hospital under the regulations of the Nightingale Fund’.  And also 5 under nurses ‘who seem capable of becoming fit for the situation of upper nurses, when they shall have had some experience and instruction in Addenbrooke’s Hospital’

The superior nurses were paid £25p.a. And the under nurses £16-£18p.a.

When in charge of a ward they were addressed as ‘Sister’.

The Matron Jane Bishop was opposed to them as were some of the Governors because of the extra expense.

The new nurses resigned after being ridiculed in a letter to the local press as being ‘more ornaments than useful’, but not without a spirited defence.

The hospital struggled for the next few years with finances, trying to keep the old staff happy and improving nursing standards, but finally decided that the only way  forward was to establish a nurses training school


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