Last Resort: Hospital Care in Canada
Nurses of the General Hospital, Montreal, QC, 1894
Wm. Notman & Son
1894, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords: mixed (2246) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
Keys to History
In the 19th century, like today, women played a predominant role in the hospital world. They served meals, changed dressings and administered medicine, but did not hold specialized positions. In some hospitals, they washed windows and did the dishes.
At the Montreal General Hospital, until the 1860s, women were mainly considered servants and were often recruited from among former patients. They worked long hours, from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., and received only a meagre stipend. Many of them either quit or were fired.
In the later 1800s, working conditions improved. Hiring criteria were raised, and a portion of the female staff was assigned exclusively to patient care. In 1875, the hospital hired its first trained nurses. All of them were graduates of the earliest professional nursing school, founded in 1860 by Florence Nightingale at Saint Thomas' Hospital in London.
This Notman & Son photo is typical of the staged portraits of the day. It was taken as part of a series of reports on different lines of work and illustrates a brand new medical profession.
The first graduate nurses hired in Canada worked at the Montreal General Hospital, while Canada's first nursing school was founded at the General Hospital in Toronto.
An initial attempt to establish a nursing school was made in 1874, but differences between the doctors and the nurses (who were probably less submissive than expected) put an end to the project. Canada's first nursing schools opened at Toronto's General Hospital in 1881 and at Montreal's Women's Hospital in 1886. The Montreal General Hospital school began operating on April 1, 1890. That same year, the Grace Hospital Training School for Nurses opened in Toronto.
Nora Livingstone, a graduate of New York Hospital's school, founded the Montreal General Hospital Nursing School.