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The Early Years of Nursing at King's College Hospital

<em>Nurses’ Handbook</em>, King’s College Hospital, 1880. King's College Archives, KH/NLSN4/1Nurses’ Handbook, King’s College Hospital, 1880. King's College Archives, KH/NLSN4/1<em>Nurses’ Handbook,</em> King’s College Hospital, 1880. King's College Archives, KH/NLSN4/1Nurses’ Handbook, King’s College Hospital, 1880. King's College Archives, KH/NLSN4/1Florence Nightingale is famed for both her contributions to nursing and to highlighting the importance of hospital hygiene and cleanliness.

At a time when hospital nursing was seen as an extension of domestic service and nurses had a public reputation for being slovenly or even drunk, an image capitalised upon by reformers, The Nightingale Fund established the first modern training school for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital in 1861.

Schools like the one at St Thomas’ aimed to raise nursing standards by providing nurses with systematic instruction in topics such as hygiene, cleanliness and antisepsis. By 1899, there were 12 new nursing schools in London.

Yet, the Nightingale School was not without precedent as a provider of trained women for nursing. Religious sisterhoods in the management of the nursing workforce, such as the one at St John’s House founded in 1848, pre-dates Nightingale’s School.

This order, which introduced a system of management built around a female head of nursing, assumed responsibility for the nursing service of King’s College Hospital in 1856 and Charing Cross Hospital in 1866. 

Under Katherine Henrietta Monk (1855 – 1915), Sister Matron at King’s College Hospital from 1884 to 1906, probationers were introduced to a strict training regime and expected to follow the rules contained in a handbook issued to them on entry to the King’s Nursing Training School.

The regime emphasised the importance of cleanliness. The Handbook stated that nurses should attend to their own cleanliness before ward cleanliness, while the ward sister was responsible for total cleanliness in the wards and for performing treatments ordered by hospital doctors. 

Late nineteenth century developments in nurse training therefore evolved alongside new practices to prevent and manage wound sepsis, resulting in a closer relationship between nurses and surgeons. With their own specialist role, both nurses and surgeons relied on each other for effective wound management. 

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