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Book review - Health & Living - Celebrating the jubilee nurses

Jubilee Nurse by Elizabeth Prendergast and Helen Sheridan tells the story of the nurses who worked in the poorest parts of the country, from inner city Dublin to rural districts and remote islands, from 1890- 1974. It vividly describes their duties, as well as the history of the Queen’s Institute in Ireland.

The training of jubilee nurses was financed by donations made to honour the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. They wore a distinctive long grey or black coat and travelled by bicycle or pony and trap. The nurses worked from early morning until late evening, seven days a week. Sunday might be a ‘rest day,’ but the nurses were often called for an emergency. They were often called on during the night and were heavily relied on by people of the time, who were largely terrified of going to hospital.

Most jubilee nurses made in excess of 5,000 house calls a year and many cycled up to 30 miles a day. They were encouraged not to marry, and on marriage had to cease employment. Nurses often stayed in the same district until retirement and became a part of their communities.

The book depicts the sheer poverty people were living in, with little food, heat or clothes. In the early years, the lack of electricity or running water made the nurses’ job even tougher. Essentials such as bandages were baked in the oven and kept in a biscuit tin to keep them sterile.

Jubilee nurses worked through World War I and II, when diseases such as TB, typhoid and diphtheria were common. In a time before antibiotics, epidemics made for challenging times. Many nurses were also trained in midwifery and responsible for setting up baby clubs to educate women on how best to look after their babies.

The book profiles some long-standing jubilee nurses such as Annie P. Smithson, INMO general secretary (1929-1943). Some districts are explored in great detail, including Dundrum, Naas, Mallow and Donegal. Examples of particular cases faced by nurses are also included and the work of the Women’s National Health Association is also explored.

The authors drew on many sources, they held interviews with former nurses and analysed Queen’s Institute Records and An Bord Altranais archives. Photographs of nurses illustrate the book beautifully and will evoke memories for those who remember the nurses.

Jubilee Nurse is a good read for those with an interest in the history of nursing.

– Edel Reynolds
INMO assistant librarian

Book review - Health & Living - Celebrating the jubilee nurses
February 2013 Vol 21 (1)
February 2013 Vol 21 (1)
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