Nursing Before Nightingale

Nursing Before Nightingale 1815-1899, Helmstadter, Carol and Judith Godden

Nursing Before Nightingale

Nursing before Nightingale is a study of the transformation of nursing in England during the 19th century. Its authors argue that the drive to reform nursing began with improvements in medical effectiveness from the early nineteenth century. These improvements in medicine and surgery were dependent on effective, conscientious nursing – as is medicine and surgery today. Rather than being the beginning of nursing reform, Florence Nightingale’s work was the culmination of earlier reforms, particularly that by Anglican Sisters.

This study is of great value to those studying the history of medicine, labour, religion, gender studies and the rise of a respectable society in the nineteenth century.


Prize: Winner of the American Association for the History of Nursing’s Lavinia L. Dock Award for Exemplary Historical Research and Writing, 2012

Selected an ‘Outstanding Academic Title’ in 2012 by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. The citation reads: ‘Comprising just over 9 percent of the more than 25,000 titles submitted to Choice in 2012, Outstanding Academic Titles are the “the best of the best”.’

‘… bridges the historical gap in nursing scholarship, bringing a fresh perspective on the contributions of many over centuries to the development of the nursing profession. Valuable for anyone interested in the history of medicine, or religious, labor, or gender studies. Summing Up: Essential. All academic readers.’ Choice ‘Nursing before Nightingale excels in linking the micro-practices of nursing to macro-issues of gender, medicine, class, and denominational prejudice. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to venture beyond the famous figures of Gamp and Nightingale and delve into the complex world of Victorian nursing.’

Victorian Studies ‘This is the first work that has proposed a model for changes in hospital nursing that spans the whole of the nineteenth century and puts the Nightingale system as the culmination of these attempts at reform, not the start… essential reading for anyone wanting to venture beyond the famous figures of Gamp and Nightingale and delve into the complex world of Victorian nursing’.

Social History of Medicine ‘This is a highly readable and fascinating account of the struggles faced by early nurse reformers. It will be of interest to historians, nurses, and anyone interested in medical history at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level. But perhaps Helmstadter and Godden’s greatest achievement is to look at the early history of modern nursing and show how relevant this story is to nursing today. In the end, Nightingale’s more secular model of nursing prevailed in our memory and nurses continue to fight for full professional recognition today.’

Journal of Religious History ‘This book is extremely valuable because it presents a new image of pre-Nightingale nursing in England and illuminates the overlooked importance of religious nurses to the reforms in England, which should encourage further historical research on this topic.’

Canadian Bulletin of Medical History ‘In their compelling book, the authors meticulously analyze extensive primary sources, including hospital records and papers of Florence Nightingale and Anglican sisters. … [It] places nursing history in broad sociocultural contexts and challenges historians in other fields to consider healthcare as central to the nineteenth-century master narrative.’

The Historian ‘… thought-provoking and timely.’

Bulletin of the History of Medicine ‘… a clear and concise analysis of nursing reform before Nightingale became the iconic figure of the nursing profession.’

About the Authors

Carol Helmstadter wrote this book when Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto and Judith Godden when at The University of Sydney as Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Health and later Honorary Associate of the Department of History. Carol is an award-winning nurse historian who publishes widely on nineteenth-century nursing. Judith now works in Sydney as a professional historian specialising in the history of medicine.


ISBN-10: 1409423131
ISBN-13: 978-1409423133
Publisher  –  History of Medicine in Context series (Surrey UK/Burlington USA: Ashgate, )
Length  –  219 pages


Available from many large booksellers.  Available in hardcopy and kindle form.