In observation of Women’s History Month, each week of March the Dragonfly will feature a National Library of Medicine exhibit that highlights the history of women in health, science, and society. This week highlights the nursing profession through the “Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection“.
The nursing profession is made up of about 3 million registered nurses in the United States and many more world wide and is one of the most diverse professions available. Nursing began within the home with women taking care of ill or incapacitated family members. Since then, nursing has expanded to include not only women but men as well. Nurses work in a variety of settings including but not limited to hospitals, clinics, K-12 schools, research labs, universities, long term care facilities, law firms and even in libraries. A nurse may work independently and collaboratively, and nurses are now many patient’s primary healthcare provider. Nurses have been instrumental in promoting the health of individuals and communities as well as in progress of clinical care, public health, and scientific advancements. We celebrate and honor the work of nurses of the past, the present and the future during Women’s History Month and all year long.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) History of Medicine Division acquired an archive of 2,588 postcards from American nurse and collector Michael Zwerdling, RN. This unique archive consists of postcards with images of nurses and the nursing profession from around the world, produced between 1893 and 2011 with many examples coming from the “Golden Age” of postcards—roughly 1907 to 1920. These images of nurses and nursing are informed by cultural values; ideas about women, men, and work; and by attitudes toward class, race, and national differences. By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in 20th-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times. Pictures of Nursing provides a way to understand the types of images that are represented in the full collection.
The online exhibit includes a digital gallery of over 500 images from the postcard collection. Viewers can browse through a selection that highlights nurses, the nursing profession, and nursing as informed by cultural values. In addition, educators will find a lesson plan for high school students to examine some of the postcards visually and to consider how images affect social perception of nursing. A higher education module encourages students to consider the complex relationship between idealized American gender roles, wartime propaganda, and female military nurses’ real experiences during World War I and World War II.
Pictures of Nursing is also a traveling exhibit which your library or organization may wish to host. Learn more about booking the exhibit on its Book An Exhibition web page.
Want to visit the exhibit? It will be at the Lewiston City Library in Lewiston, ID Januay 6 – February 15, 2020.