History of Nursing Exhibit

Be sure to visit the display cases in the Falk Library lobby and the Rare Book Rooms for an engrossing exhibit depicting the long and distinguished history of nursing through books in our History of Medicine collections.

Several of America’s most famous nurses, such as Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and Dorothea Dix, cared for Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised herself as a man and served as a nurse, soldier, and spy. In her 1865 book, Nurse and Spy in the Union Army: The Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps, and Battlefields, Edmonds details her exciting adventures, comprising everything from elaborate disguises, near escapes, and her care of fallen soldiers. This is a wonderful historical text that not only celebrates her adventures but also the bravery shared by all war-time nurses.

Prior to the 19th century, most nursing was performed neither in hospitals nor on the battlefields, but rather by women in the home. In his 1888 text, Gunn’s New Domestic Physician, John C. Gunn, MD, discusses both the practical treatments of home nursing, covering everything from pregnancy, common diseases, medicinal herbs, and the very Victorian ideal of the spiritual and maternal caretaker.

Isabel Hampton Robb, one of the great advocates of nursing education, focuses on hospital nursing. In her 1906 Nursing: Its Principles and Practice, Robb describes the nitty-gritty facts of a nurse’s daily life and the skills needed by nursing students to care for their patients.

And, of course, no display of nursing history would be complete without Florence Nightingale, the great 19th century nursing education advocate. In our collection is a rare book from 1859 titled Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not. This slim volume is especially valuable as it was given to the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing in 1951 to honor the nursing program. It serves as a reminder of the great historical nursing legacy left to all nurses by their predecessors.

The history of nursing exhibit is available for viewing in the Falk Library Lobby display case during regular library hours and in the Rare Book Rooms on Mondays and Wednesdays from noon-3 p.m., and other times by appointment.

~ Robin Sencenbach