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Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard Collection

Nurses and nursing have been the frequent subjects of postcards. These postcard images are informed by cultural values; ideas about women, men, and work; and by attitudes toward class, race, and national differences. Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Pos

Picturing the Gender of Nursing

For centuries, men have been involved in nursing work, particularly in all-male institutions like religious  organizations and the military. However, their contributions have often been overlooked and remain largely invisible. Traditionally, societal perceptions and upbringing reinforced the idea that nursing was exclusively women's work, with children learning this through games, toys, and stories. Girls were typically encouraged to become nurses, while boys were directed toward roles as soldiers or doctors.

Visual representations from the early 20th century, such as photographs of male nurses at Dixmont Hospital, PA, and a 1911 image of St. Luke’s Hospital in Fergus Falls, MN, offer glimpses into the historical presence of male nurses. Additionally, an early nursing training manual by Clara S. Weeks-Shaw in 1900 underscores the prevailing expectation of absolute fidelity to doctor's orders as the primary duty of nurses.

Cartoons from the early 1900s, such as "Little Patriots" from around 1917 and "His First Case" from circa 1910 by American illustrator Grace Wiederseim, reflect societal norms of the time. Wiederseim, known for creating the Campbell Kids advertising campaign, portrayed gendered roles in healthcare, depicting a boy as a doctor attending to a sick doll while a girl assumes the role of a nurse.

These historical depictions illustrate how deeply ingrained gender roles were in shaping perceptions of nursing as a predominantly female profession, despite the historical presence of men in the field.