Northern Centre for the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities

Pybus: "Tropical Training for Colonial Nurses: 1899-1960"

Added 09 May 2012 | Duration 50 minutes 56 seconds

Dr Rosemary Wall, Imperial College London and King’s College London

Between 1896 and 1966, the Colonial Nursing Association sent 8,450 nurses to the British Empire and to areas overseas with substantial British populations. British colonial nurses were expected to be highly qualified, many having trained at prestigious London nursing schools, and were also expected to be certified midwives. The arguments for extra training from the Colonial Office and from businessmen are discussed and compared with policy for colonial doctors. This paper examines the nurses who were chosen for this specialist training, whether at the Liverpool or London Schools of Tropical Medicine, or at the East Harlem Nursing and Health Demonstration, New York, and the County Health Units of Alabama, courtesy of fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation. Academic qualifications were however, not enough, and assessing character and physique was important in the application and interview process for colonial nursing. For example, sport and horse riding were also assessed as valuable experiences for life in the colonies.


Rosemary Wall is a historian of medicine, in particular bacteriology and nursing. She is currently a Lecturer in the History of Medicine at Imperial College London and a Research Fellow in the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London. Her doctoral research was undertaken at Imperial College London, followed by postdoctoral research posts at the University of Oxford and King’s College London. Recent publications include an article on the use of bacteriological diagnosis in London and Cambridge in Social History of Medicine, and a forthcoming chapter on nursing in the Malayan Emergency in the Handbook of the Global History of Nursing (Routledge).

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