Celebrating National Nurses Week and Florence Nightingale, handwashing innovator

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist

Although, in 2020, advice like “wash your hands” and “cover your mouth when you cough” seem fairly obvious and common sense, there was a time when this was not the case. That time was March 1855, when the situation in British hospitals outside of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) during the Crimean War had become so dire that Florence Nightingale and 40 other women acting as trained volunteer nurses were finally allowed access to patients (they had previously been denied access because of their gender). Hospitals were overcrowded and extremely unsanitary conditions encouraged the spread of infectious diseases like cholera, typhoid, typhus and dysentery, which Nightingale recognized immediately. She implemented basic cleanliness measures, such as baths for patients, clean facilities, and fresh linens, and advocated for an approach that addressed the psychological and emotional, as well as the physical, needs of patients. Her improvements brought a dramatic decline in the mortality rate at these hospitals, which had previously been as high as 40%.

While Nightingale is well known as one of the world’s first nurses, she is less well known for her strikingly lovely data visualizations (including pie charts and a rose-shaped design called the “coxcomb”), which she used to highlight the number of deaths from diseases, in addition to deaths from wounds or injury, during the Crimean War. Nightingale, a mathematician and statistician, recognized the importance of eye-catching visuals in communicating the impact of her innovations.

National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6th (National Nurses Day) and ends each year on May 12th (Florence Nightingale’s birthday). Today, we celebrate the history of nursing and nurses of all kinds, and the essential, life-saving work that they perform. We hope you enjoy this series of digital images from UCSF’s Archives & Special Collections, all digitized and available online through Calisphere. Archives & Special Collections also holds the fascinating Florence Nightingale Memorial Collection, created by Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish, which you can read more about here.

Irene Pope, Nurse and Activist

This is a guest post by Griffin Burgess, ZSFG Archivist.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’re recognizing Irene Pope, nurse and activist.

Irene Pope

Irene Pope was born in Berkeley, CA and graduated from the UCSF School of Nursing in 1947. She worked as a nurse at UC Hospital for eighteen months, then continued her education at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, earning her master’s degree. She returned to the UC as head nurse and later became the assistant director of nursing.

Irene Pope (back row, center) with her UC classmates. From Medi-Cal yearbook, 1947.

Pope came to San Francisco General Hospital in 1960 as director of nursing. She inherited an institution with constant nursing turnover and little to no high-level coordination of nursing activity. Pope transformed the nursing service into a functional, united group while also focusing on improving working conditions for nurses.

At the time, nurses at SFGH were paid very little compared to other San Francisco city workers and nurses around the country. Nurses had never gone on strike before in the U.S. and were in fact prohibited from striking, so in 1966, the SFGH nurses staged a “sickout.” All staff nurses called in sick while Pope and other head nurses kept the hospital going. The sickout lasted three days and resulted in a 40 percent pay raise for the nursing staff.

When asked about the sickout, Pope gave her full support and said, “we are interested in saving the profession, as well as seeking betterment for ourselves.”

In 1971, Pope left SFGH to serve as president-elect and then president of the California Nurses Association, where she lobbied to pass the Nurses Practice Act, paving the way for nurse practitioners. Pope spent her career working tirelessly for nurses and the nursing profession as a whole, and her efforts have created lasting change at ZSFG and beyond.

Halloween Costumes from the Archives

If you’re looking for some last minute costume inspiration this Halloween, the UCSF archives have you covered!

Students in the School of Nursing, 1951, illustrate the power of teamwork. If you want to dress up as a bunny rabbit, make sure you have a friend willing to wear the complementary carrot costume. It really brings the whole thing together.

UCSF School of Nursing students, 1951. From a scrapbook, AR 83-03, carton 1.

UCSF School of Nursing students, 1951. From scrapbook, AR 83-03, carton 1.

Or you can go with a timely pop culture reference like these two School of Dentistry students in 1987. Well, Maverick and Goose from Top Gun is more of a classic reference now, but you get the idea.

School of Dentistry students. From School of Dentistry yearbook, 1987, University Publications.

UCSF School of Dentistry students. From School of Dentistry yearbook, 1987, University Publications.

The UCSF Library staff, 1988, is full of ideas ranging from spooky to suave.

UCSF Library staff, 1988. Photograph collection, Library.

UCSF Library staff, 1988. Photograph collection, Library.

Finally, you can really just go for it, like these three characters visiting the Pediatrics Department in 1973. Not sure if Snoopy and his friends, Gorilla and Flower, are creepy or cute… let’s just say they are elaborate!

Characters visiting the UCSF Pediatrics Department, 1973. Photograph collection, Pediatrics Department.

Characters visiting the UCSF Pediatrics Department, 1973. Photograph collection, Pediatrics Department.

Hope you feel inspired, Happy Halloween!