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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


During the 19th century, popular art often portrayed nursing archetypes as sentimental figures, such as the Picturing Nursing Today "angel" or "mother." However, as the 20th century unfolded, advertising images of nurses increasingly shifted toward saucy and sexualized representations of women. Since the 1980s, nurses have become more conscious of their public image, expressing a desire to update the archetypes that have historically prevailed.

In historical depictions, nursing archetypes evolved from sentimental portrayals to more provocative and sexualized imagery. Recruitment materials and postcards from different periods, such as those from the US Army Nurse Corps in 1951 and Suburban Hospital in 1999, showcase the changing visual narratives around nursing. Additionally, some postcards from the 1917 United States and 1950s England highlight common nurse stereotypes, including the older 'battle-axe' and the young 'sexy' nurse, often portrayed as a working-class blonde woman. These stereotypes were used for comedic effect, portraying the nurse-patient dynamic in a way that reflected societal attitudes of the time.

The evolution of nursing imagery reflects broader shifts in cultural perceptions and expectations, with contemporary nurses expressing a desire to redefine and modernize these historical archetypes.