Lady Rachel Dudley was celebrated as one of the beauties of her generation. A favorite of the Prince of Wales she turned heads everywhere she went. The loveliness of her face was far surpassed by her generosity and willingness to help those less fortunate.
Born Rachel Gurney, to a family of Quaker bankers, she showed talent as a singer as a young girl. Her golden voice captured the attention of the Duchess of Bedford, who took her and her sister on as protegees, paying for lessons by renowned Italian composer and singing teacher Paolo Tosti. The young Rachael was about to embark on a singing career but fate intervened.
Miss Gurney was about to adopt music as a profession when at that junctuire her friend Lady Edith Ward, came riding by with her brother Lord Dudley, who fell in love first with the voice and then with the singer. “I wanted to marry the most beautiful woman in England – I could not marry you so I will marry Rachel Gurney.” Lord Dudley was heard to have said to his mother.
The Nottingham Evening Post 28 June 1920
The wedding took place in Christchurch, Chelsea, London on 18th September 1891 (which happened to be Emily’s 24th birthday). The wedding aroused much curiosity in population, who all but stampeded to catch a glimpse of the beautiful bride!
Christchurch Times 19 September 1891
Belfast News-Letter 26 April 1920
12 July 1924 – Weekly Irish Times – Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
“In the summer of 1920, while the War of Independence was raging, Lady Rachel came once more to Screebe Lodge. She was alone. On the morning of June 26, she went for a swim, and never returned. Her body was later retrieved from the sea.”
On June 26th 1920 after traveling from England to Screebe House, the family’s summer residence in Connemara just the day before, Lady Dudley went for a swim to freshen up. After a long and tiring journey, she decided to take a dip as a way of revivification. She did not return.
Lady Dudley was swimming off the jetty at the back of her residence and had taken a lifebelt with her when she entered the water. On the jetty observing her was her maid, Ms Norman, who remarked that Lady Dudley had swum 30 yards from the jetty and appeared to be enjoying herself when she suddenly got into trouble. She threw her hands in the air and sank below the water’s surface. She disappeared from sight and only her lifebelt came to the surface. Her body was later recovered.
Today is the International Day of the Nurse, it is also the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale. Emily Weddall was a nurse too. Inspired by Nurse Nightingale, she trained at Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital, Dublin under the supervision of Nurse Margaret Rachel Huxley, who as a young girl was inspired by Florence Nightingale. Nurse Huxley can be credited with reforming Irish nursing.
As a fully qualified nurse, Emily adhered to her very modern training, which commenced in 1891, when she was twenty-three, the appropriate age at the time. She nursed in public and private hospitals and as a personal nurse too. Her career took her to Europe and beyond, became a source of income to her in a time of great financial hardship. She applied her skills during a typhus outbreak in 1913 and during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. She also collected money to help fund the Lady Dudley Nurses.
Emily as a nurse was a valued member of Cumann na mBan, and gave classes in first aid during the Revolutionary years in Ireland. She also attended to wounded members of the IRA during the dark days of the War of Independence. She was known to cycle long distances during wet cold nights “to nurse a sick member or to save the capture of others”. When an apology was made or gratitude expressed to her, she always replied; ” It is my duty to help our soldiers”. She was in her own way a ‘lady with a lamp’.
When Florence Nightingale set about changing the style of nursing it was not a profession it was employment that attracted the likes of the Dickensian character Sarah Gamp. It was certainly not a path for young ladies like Florence herself or those that came after her, such as Emily. It did not happen for her overnight in fact it took until she was well over thirty and the horrors of the Crimean War for her to fulfill a destiny that was ‘a calling from God’.
Nurse Nightingale, was born in the Italian city, Florence, which she is named after in May 1820. Her family were wealthy and well connected enjoying many privileges such as a two houses one for the summer months and the other for wintering. Her education was administered by her father, who taught her and her older sister, Frances Parthenope (after the Italian city she was born in) many subjects that would not have been imparted in traditional education. We do not know about her sister but young Florence had no interest in the more ladylike activities of home making and needlework. She was more drawn to what was considered in the day as masculine pursuits of reading philosophy. It was not masculine or feminine pursuits that inspired Florence to realise her destiny it was a divine calling.
In her teens Florence felt that God had called her forth to help alleviate human suffering. To her this took on the form of caring for the sick. She may not have known what form that would take, but as a devout Unitarian she trusted the calling of the divine. As nursing was not a profession or indeed a job as such it must have perturbed her greatly. She persisted even if her parents were less than pleased at her proposed path in life. Even if her education was at the time ‘liberal’, society still expected a girl from her background to marry well.
Her father relented and permitted her to attend a school in Germany which taught basic nursing skills for a short time in 1850. She returned in 1851 for further training, increasing her skill base to correct patient observation and hospital management. From there she traveled to Paris, where she spent time training with the Sisters of Mercy. The order was founded by the Venerable Catherine McAuley, an Irishwoman, who like Florence had a calling to help the sick and poor.
In 1831 Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy, a Religious Congregation largely involved in the care of the poor, the sick and educationally disadvantaged. In the early days, her work was mostly among the people of Dublin, but in time the Congregation spread and became one of the largest Congregations of women, not alone in Ireland, but in the world.
Florence Nightingale was born two hundred years ago this month. ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ the title she earned during the Crimean War, revolutionized nursing completely.
Nursing Before Florence
Before Florence Nightingale took on the occupation of nursing, transforming it to a a vocation it was not so much a profession but a poorly paid employment option. Nurses were usually old women, who took it on as means to support themselves when there were few jobs options open to them. ‘Nurses’ were almost always from lower ends of society, received little or no training and were noted for bad habits and their careless attitude towards the sick. If the infirm did not have it bad enough and had to go to hospital they found themselves in overcrowded unsanitary institutions, that did little to alleviate their suffering. In his 1844-45 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens captured the stereotype of a nurse all too well in the character of Sarah Gamp.
The face of Mrs. Gamp — the nose in particular — was somewhat red and swollen, and it was difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a smell of spirits. Like most persons who have attained to great eminence in their profession, she took to hers very kindly; insomuch that, setting aside her natural predilections as a woman, she went to a lying-in or a laying-out with equal zest and relish.
“When this book was first published, I was given to understand, by some authorities, that the Watertoast Association and eloquence were beyond all bounds of belief. Therefore I record the fact that all that portion of Martin Chuzzlewit’s experiences is a literal paraphrase of some reports of public proceedings in the United States (especially of the proceedings of a certain Brandywine Association), which were printed in the Times Newspaper in June and July, 1843—at about the time when I was engaged in writing those parts of the book; and which remain on the file of the Times Newspaper, of course. In all my writings, I hope I have taken every available opportunity of showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected dwellings of the poor. Mrs Sarah Gamp was, four-and-twenty years ago, a fair representation of the hired attendant on the poor in sickness. The hospitals of London were, in many respects, noble Institutions; in others, very defective. I[…]”Excerpt From: Charles Dickens. “Martin Chuzzlewit.” iBooks.
“She was a fat old woman, this Mrs Gamp, with a husky voice and a moist eye, which she had a remarkable power of turning up, and only showing the white of it. Having very little neck, it cost her some trouble to look over herself, if one may say so, at those to whom she talked. She wore a very rusty black gown, rather the worse for snuff, and a shawl and bonnet to correspond.”
Excerpt From: Charles Dickens. “Martin Chuzzlewit.” iBooks.