Raising professional confidence: The influence of the Anglo-Boer War (1899 - 1902) on the development and recognition of nursing as a profession

  • Charlotte Dale

Student thesis: Phd


The thesis examines the position of nurses during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899 - 1902) and considers how their work helped to raise the profile of nursing. The experience of the war demonstrated the superiority of the work undertaken by trained nurses as compared with that of 'amateurs'. At the commencement of war a small cohort of army nurses worked alongside large numbers of trained male orderlies, however these numbers proved insufficient during the period of the war and additional, entirely untrained orderlies (often convalescent soldiers) were relied upon to deliver nursing care. Against a backdrop of long term antipathy toward nurses at the seat of war, the work of both army and civilian nurses in military hospitals suggested that the clinical proficiency of trained nurses had a significant impact on military effectiveness. The thesis will develop arguments based on the personal testimonies of nurses who served during the Anglo-Boer War, relating to clinical nursing and nurses perceptions of professionalism during the period. Personal testimony will be used primarily to examine the working lives and experiences of serving nurses, as many historians simply state that the excellent work of the nurses forced changes, yet make no allusion to what this specifically entailed. Faced with the exigencies of war, including limited medical supplies and military bureaucracy (termed by nurses and doctors alike as 'red tape') that hindered nurses' abilities to provide high levels of care, nurses demonstrated their developing clinical confidence. Despite accusations that nurses were 'frivolling' in South Africa, raising concerns over the control and organisation of nurses in future military campaigns, the social exploits of nurses on active service was not entirely detrimental to contemporary views of their professional status. Nurses were able to demonstrate their abilities to survive the hardships of war, including nursing close to the 'front lines' of war and the arduous conditions inherent in living under canvas on the South African veldt. Not only were nurses proving their abilities to endure hardship normally associated with masculine work, but they were also establishing their clinical capabilities. This was especially so during the serious typhoid epidemics when nurses were able to draw upon their expert knowledge to provide careful nursing care based on extensive experience. Nurses, who had undergone recognised training in Britain, demonstrated their professional competence and proved that nursing was a learned skill, not merely an innate womanly trait. The war also represented an opportunity to evidence their fitness for citizenship by using their skilled training for the benefit of the Empire. The subsequent reform of the Army Nursing Service, resulting in the establishment of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service in 1902, suggests permanent recognition of the essential role of nurses in times of both war and peace.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorChristine Hallett (Supervisor) & Jane Brooks (Supervisor)


  • Anglo-Boer War Nursing
  • Nursing History

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