2020 was the year when we clapped for our carers, and publicly celebrated our health heroes. The nursing profession was a big part of this, and they have continued with their incredible work and devotion throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking through the archives, it is clear that an appreciation of nurses and the nursing profession is longstanding and becomes particularly prominent during times of struggle.

On #NursesDay 2021, this blog highlights some items from collections at Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University.

World War 1– This WW1 Christmas card illustrates ‘A Woman’s Part’ – the important role of providing medical care and support to injured soldiers.

Christmas card, c.1914-1921 from Margaret Roberts collection (Ref. SWCC/MNA/PP/104/4)

South Wales Coalfield– On her resignation in 1922, after almost 20 years service, the workmen at Llanbradach Collieries and Coke Works presenting ‘Nurse James’ with this beautiful ‘lasting form of appreciation’, expressing gratitude for her ‘Tenderness, Skill and Care’.

‘It is well known how much the Medical Practitioners valued your services, and the many successes of your faithful treatment of serious cases of accidents and illnesses are well known and appreciated.’

This 1892 silk playbill by Ebley Portable Theatre highlights the important role played by district nurses in a pre-NHS South Wales Coalfield. It promotes a benefit performance for district nurses- ‘deserving women…full of self-sacrifice and devotion’.

Ebley’s Olympic Theatre playbill, April 1892 (Ref. LAC/106/E/22)

Nursing Associations– records of East Side District Nursing Association (Ref. LAC/64/7) detail the increasing ‘useful work’ of district nurses, before the time of statutory provision for district nursing (which didn’t come until 1948). These Associations supported an alternative nursing service to expensive private home nursing. This 1916 report also details the ‘valuable assistance’ of Nurse Morris, the first Maternity Nurse in Swansea’s Eastside.

East Side District Nursing Association annual reports and accounts, 1916 from the Henry Leyshon Collection (Ref. LAC/64/7)

In 1931 Clydach Nursing Association recognised their excellent nurses and the local support for them, despite hard times.

From Clydach Nursing Association annual report and balance sheet, 1931 (Ref. LAC/92/R/6)

Raissa Page collection– More recently, documentary photographer Raissa Page took many striking images of nursing, largely during the 1980s- in hospitals, care homes, mental health institutions and out in the community (Ref. DC/3).

District nurse with housebound pensioner, 1980s (Ref. DC3/28/1/43)

This poster uses a Raissa Page image taken at Hackney Homerton Hospital. It was published for a nursing pay/grading campaign by Managerial Administrative Technical and Supervisory Association, staff section of the GMB union in 1988.

Poster for nursing pay/grading campaign, 1988 (Ref. DC3/1/24)

A somewhat depressing reminder that discussions over fair pay for the nursing profession still goes on, over 30 years after this poster was produced.

But some thing else hasn’t changed- documents across our archive collections show that nurses and the nursing profession are definitely not undervalued by those who are full of appreciation for the medical care, comfort and kindness they receive. From front lines to pandemic times, nurses will always be heroes.

Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

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