(Author)ity abroad: The life writing of colonial nurses

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9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper asserts the significance of nurses’ writing within the developing field of life writing studies. It closely examines selected letters written by nurses in the Colonial Nursing Association (CNA) and models pertinent methods of literary analysis, in order to illuminate nurses’ experiences and their skills of self-authorship. The figure of the CNA nurse is an especially rich subject for study: while these women travelled across political and geographical boundaries, they also demonstrated especially flexible and multifaceted ‘travelling’ identities. This essay's subject holds relevance for scholars of healthcare and the humanities, nursing educators, literary critics and medical historians.

This is a discussion article that first establishes the value of narrative analysis in a health care context, specifically in the context of nursing scholarship and practice, and then introduces the relevant history of the CNA. Subsequently, the article analyzes primary texts, in the form of nurses’ letters, demonstrating how CNA nurses participated in and changed ideologies of gender, nation, and empire.

Data sources
A range of historical and contemporary sources is used to support the goals of this paper, including primary texts such as letters and speeches and secondary material such as literary criticism and colonial histories. The essay is based on research into the first twenty years of the CNA, from approximately 1896 to 1914, with a particular focus on nurses posted to Africa and the Caribbean.

Review methods
The article uses methods of literary and cultural analysis in order to prove that the study of nurses’ writing has contemporary cross-disciplinary significance.

Women employed by the CNA drew upon traditional forms of colonial rhetoric in depicting their experiences, but also adapted these forms in order to reflect their own personal and professional experiences as nurses abroad. Many CNA nurses embraced adventure, independence and professional and physical challenges. For these traits to be accepted and celebrated within the late nineteenth and early twentieth century cultural imagination indicates that the CNA nurse may have revised concepts of female propriety in her own time, which may cause us to question some of our current assumptions about historical gender roles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1155–1162
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


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