Tribute to Nursing
From too-cute depictions by top childrens book illustrators to grim wartime propaganda,antique postcards featuring nurses offer a window on the professions history and evolving image in the public eye. Alumnus and nurse Michael Zwerdling 65 explores this subject in his book Postcards of Nursing: A Worldwide Tribute, published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. (www.nursepostcard.com)
could be few more powerful voices touting the virtues and rewards of the
nursing profession than Michael Zwerdlings. The Class of 1965 alumnus
brings the perspective of one who came to the field later in life
he earned his UVM degree in psychology and became a nurse in 1993 after
careers in market research and as a martial arts teacher. Besides being
meaningful, challenging work, Zwerdling is frank that being a good nurse
made him a much better person. It taught me kindness. he says.
WARRIORS The Cross of Lorraine is among the symbols associated with
the Nurse Guardian archetype, says Zwerdling. He notes that
the fight against tuberculosis, the most publicly embraced anti-disease
crusade of the 20th century was modeled after the Christian Crusade
and adopted the Cross of Lorraine as its symbol in 1902. Just as
in the first Christian Crusade, thousands surged forth in support,
Zwerdling writes. Supporters and volunteers were the army victorious.
Children, by raising funds, could become pages, squires, and knights.
Bacteriologists and physicians were seen as heroes engaged in a
sanctified struggle against the overwhelming beast of infection.
The nurses became the guardians and defenders, standing between the evil
and its intended victims.
GIRLS Glamour art postcards from the first decades of the 20th century
had a questionable influence on the nursing profession raising
its profile, but creating false impressions. Zwerdling writes: A
caring expression on a nurses face becomes a bit more sensual, a
uniform becomes slightly more fashionable, dark circles of fatigue around
the eyes transform to an eye-shadow makeup effect. Because glamour postcards
far outnumber realist postcards, the glamour postcard had a greater impact
on nursing as a profession. For example, when the call for nurses went
out in World War I, women who had a distorted conception of nursing rushed
to enlist. Their actions were motivated, at least in part, by the visions
of glamour and romance the postcard helped promulgate. Whether this ultimately
harmed or helped the profession is open to debate, but in the short run
it caused a major headache for the nurses responsible for screening the
candidates. The postcard is the work of Giovanni Nanni (1888-1969),
a well-known Italian painter-illustrator.
OF ROMANCE The leap from glamorous images of nurses to romantic ones
is a predictably short one. Many postcards from the World War I era and
before suggest, not so subtly, the possibilities of nurse-patient romance.
Zwerdling writes that the depictions caused the profession difficulty,
not because the fantasy was completely false, but because it has been
blown ridiculously out of proportion. He adds that wartime postcards
gave the impression that romance was a natural, expected outcome
of being wounded in war a reward for service, if nothing more.
FACES A 2002 Gallup poll placed nurses second (behind only firefighters)
in the publics ranking of the honesty and ethics of professionals.
The study indicated that Americans trusted nurses more than doctors, pharmacists,
engineers, dentists, and clergy, Zwerdling notes. Despite that fact, nurses
arent used frequently in contemporary advertising except for promoting
aspects of healthcare, the author says. Such wasnt the case early
in the 20th century and during a resurgence in the 1950s when images of
nurses lent credibility to consumer products from beer to bread.
OF MERCY Nurses have become so closely associated with compassion
that the profession has come to symbolically represent the virtue, says
Zwerdling. Artists, on postcards and through other media, have frequently
made the metaphorical link between compassion, nurses, and angels. Nurses
sprout wings, appearing in a variety of incarnations that bridge the human
and divine. Although the Nurse Angel is an artistic metaphor, she
is often literally real in the minds of patients, especially in extreme
situations, Zwerdling writes. A nurse on any battlefield,
or in any situation where, without intervention, pain and death are inevitable,
is most definitely a manifestation of salvation. Who can say, in such
situations, that salvation is not divine in origin?
NURSE Edith Cavell, an English nurse, was matron of a Red Cross hospital
and nursing school in Belgium during the German occupation of World War
I. Her arrest, trial, and execution for assisting in the escape of more
than 200 allied soldiers would make her the 20th centurys most famous
nurse. A British propaganda campaign followed her execution, and Zwerdling
notes that, Her death did more to stoke the fires of hatred against
the Germans than any other incident in the war. In the month following
Cavells execution, enlistment in the British army leapt dramatically
with 113,000 signing on for service, a jump of some 42,000 from
the previous months total. The card shown is the work of Italian
artist Tito Corbella.
WAR The archive of nursing postcards linked to war is an unfortunately
extensive one in the 20th century. Michael Zwerdlings book includes
many from World War I, the heyday of nurse-related postcards, but also
touches upon a range of other conflicts the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese
War, the Russian Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II.
Zwerdling stresses the wide gulf that sometimes separates reality and
the scene on a postcard, especially when war is the subject matter. War
is grotesque, not picturesque, he writes. We must be careful
not to fall into the delusion of thinking otherwise, all the more so since
the conditions and ideologies that have fomented war in the past are remarkably
similar to those in the present. The card pictured features the
Italian peace keeping force in Lebanon during the early 1980s.