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.