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From Microbes to Matrons

Nightingales After Nightingale

Rebecca Strong, Matron of the GRI, 1879-85 and 1891-1907. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ArchivesRebecca Strong, Matron of the GRI, 1879-85 and 1891-1907. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde ArchivesA similar model of discipleship to that of Lister and his followers operated with regard to protegees from the Nightingale School. Nurses who completed their training at the new nurse training schools went on to disseminate modern methods of nursing at other hospitals across the world.

One of the first to complete her training at the Nightingale School at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1868 was Rebecca Strong (1843 – 1944).

Strong became Matron at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 1879. When she arrived in Glasgow, Strong was shocked to find that nurse training at Infirmary was poor and devoted her energies to improving its content and organisation. 

Supported by Infirmary surgeons such as William Macewan, Strong initiated the ‘block apprenticeship’ training programme, later adopted world-wide. Short periods of instruction in the hospital school were followed by periods of practice on the wards and addressed topics like disinfectants and disinfecting practices. 

Strong also established the first preliminary training school for nurses in 1893, later adopted world-wide, which provided probationers with classroom based instruction before they entered the wards. 

Angelique Lucille Pringle (1846-1920), another former Nightingale and one Florence considered to be among the most able, became Matron of the other large teaching hospital in Scotland, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, in 1873. 

As assistant to the first Matron of the Infirmary’s new training school, Elizabeth Barclay, Pringle was promoted to Matron when it became clear that Barclay was not up to the task. Barclay called the Infirmary a ‘lawless place’ and unlike those in Glasgow, found the doctors to be unsupportive. 

Unlike Barclay, Pringle was able to transform nurse training at the Infirmary in her fourteen years as Matron. Medical lectures by doctors and surgeons, including Joseph Bell whose Notes on Surgery for Nurses became a standard text, were given, alongside more systematic ward instruction.

Louisa Gordon, Matron of St Thomas' Hospital, c. 1900. Florence Nightingale Trust.Louisa Gordon, Matron of St Thomas' Hospital, c. 1900. Florence Nightingale Trust.On the ill health of Sarah Wardroper, Matron of St Thomas’ Hospital, Nightingale requested that Pringle return to the Hospital. Pringle’s role as Matron at St Thomas’ was short-lived; she left in 1889 to join the Roman Catholic Church. 

The next Matron of St Thomas’ Hospital between 1890 and 1902, Louise McKay Gordon, had also been a former Nightingale, having completed her training at the School in 1874. She was then assistant matron at the Royal Infirmary, Liverpool and Matron at the General Infirmary, Leeds.

Probationers at St Thomas’ recalled Gordon with affection. Miss Elizabeth Lees, who began training in 1902, described her as: 

‘A tall fine woman, very upright and with a great air of authority and a severe-looking pale face, but I never knew of any case of undue severity from her, though I found many nurses who seemed afraid of her. Her cap was very high. On my first interview, arriving for my month’s trial, she told me she liked her nurses to go to her in their difficulties and I took her at her word.’
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