By Erika Mills
For over a century, images of nurses and nursing have been featured frequently as the subjects of postcards—so much so that nursing postcards offer a visual history of the profession and shine a light on the cultural values that inform perceptions of nurses. The imagery that decorates these mailers and mementos reflects popular ideas about gender, race, class, national identity, and work, illustrating nursing’s changing place in society over the decades. Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Collection, the History of Medicine Division’s newest special display and online exhibition, explores nursing history by examining the different ways in which the profession has been depicted in a curated assortment of 20th-century postcards.
Curated by Julia Hallam, PhD, a professor of communication and media at the University of Liverpool, Pictures of Nursing highlights a variety of representations of nursing, including nurses as religious and traditional archetypes, as middle class, respectable career women, as gender-based stereotypes, and as skilled health workers, rendered in the artistic styles of the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition features a selection of items from the Zwerdling collection, an archive of over 2,500 postcards compiled by American nurse, Michael Zwerdling, RN, and recently-acquired by the NLM.
Here are some highlights from the exhibition:
Pictures of Nursing is on display in the History of Medicine Division reading room until August 21, 2015. The online exhibition incorporates a “Digital Gallery,” which includes a selection of 585 postcards from the Zwerdling collection not shown in the special display. Education resources are also featured in the online exhibition, including a lesson plan for grades 9-10 that investigates the exhibition content; a higher education module; an online activity, and a robust selection of resources including K-12 suggested readings.
Come explore Pictures of Nursing online for yourself at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/picturesofnursing.