A postcard exhibit at the National Library of Medicine shows how the cultural perception of nurses has changed over the decades.
By Helen Thompson
Florence Nightingale knew how to work the press. The Times first painted her as an iconic female healer—the “lady with the lamp”—for her work in the Crimean War in the 1850s.
Nightingale used her nursing image to drive public health legislation and improve sanitary conditions in the British army.
“The postcard is a very fleeting art form, and one that in the age of electronic communication—email, twitter, selfies, Flickr, and Instagram—looks ever more anachronistic,” says Hallam.
Today, postcards have been relegated to documenting exotic vacations.
But, in their heyday at the turn of the 19th century, postcards were all the rage, an easy way to keep in touch without having to write a lengthy letter.
First patented in the U.S. in 1861, early postcards featured printed images of drawings, paintings and comics.
With the rise of personal cameras, “real photo” postcards became all the rage. As a result, postcards can provide a snapshot (both literal and figurative) of popular culture.
Over the years, postcards depicting nurses were used as recruitment tools, fundraising, advertising and even propaganda.
The current exhibit draws from the NLM’s collection of 2,588 postcards produced between 1893 and 2011, donated by former nurse and collector Michael Zwerdling.