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Which Florence Nightingale will we remember today? The ‘Lady with the Lamp’ or the influential writer and activist?



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Judith Godden, University of Sydney

Florence Nightingale’s birth on May 12, 1820, is commemorated as International Nurses Day, honouring her founding role in modern nursing. Today would be her 200th birthday, so expect to hear even more about her.

Yet mention her name to nurses, the reaction tends to be an eye-roll. Why?




Read more:
Florence Nightingale carried the lamp but modern nurses carry the can


Nightingale influenced nursing and health care in two ways.

First there is the impact of her myth. This myth was created when she headed a group of nurses to care for the thousands of British troops dying from disease during the Crimean War (1853-56).

This painting by Henrietta Rae (1891) captures the romantic stereotype of the selfless Lady with the Lamp.
Wikimedia/Wellcome Trust

The public revered Nightingale as the Lady with the Lamp, gliding around at night at Scutari Hospital in Turkey embodying selfless care. This image has been a burden for nurses as it ignores the skills involved in effective nursing.

Second, there was the impact of the real Nightingale. After the Crimean War, she spent most of her remaining 54 years as an invalid in her bedroom.

She wrote insightful reports and papers on reforming the army and improving public health. These were highly influential.

So too was her practical guide for women nursing family members at home, Notes on Nursing (1859). Later, her focus was on improving conditions in India.

In all her work, Nightingale aimed to prevent needless deaths from disease, as had occurred during the Crimean War.

In 1869, writing to one of the nurses she sent to Australia, Nightingale described her wartime experience as:

like a horrid spectre one is afraid of conjuring up out of the dark corner of one’s mind […] ready to spring, if one were not so overwhelmed with present work.

The reality, as depicted in a photograph of Florence Nightingale by Henry Hering (around 1860).
National Portrait Gallery London/Wikimedia

Her description resonates with the despair of those caring for COVID-19 patients with inadequate facilities today.

Meanwhile, the public insisted Nightingale reform civilian nursing. They poured money into a Nightingale Fund to establish a training school for nurses under her guidance.

Nightingale complained; she had not asked for the money nor been consulted about its aim. Eventually, in 1860, the Nightingale School of Nursing began at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Though she tried to influence it, she had little to do with its management.

Nightingale also had little choice but to respond to the innumerable requests she received for advice, especially about hospital design and nursing.

Australians wanted a piece of her too

Australian hospitals and politicians equally clamoured to collaborate with the famed Nightingale.

One result was the spread of the hospital building style she favoured. These hospitals had separate buildings (pavilions) to help prevent cross-infection.

Inside were long, traditional wards that became known as Nightingale wards. They had high windows for light and ventilation; patients and beds were arranged for
easy supervision. An example can be seen in the original buildings at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney.




Read more:
From army barracks to shopping malls: how hospital design has been a matter of life and death


Nightingale was not immune from imperialist prejudices. An example is her collecting statistics about indigenous health in British colonies.

As the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives points out, her involvement did not help Indigenous Australians. Nor was she always successful.

While Australian hospitals and governments boasted they consulted her, the tyranny of distance was against them. In the 1860s, she commented on plans for new wards at Sydney Infirmary (now Sydney Hospital), but in the three months it took for her letter to arrive, the plans had changed.

It was certainly not her fault that, after the building was completed, it was discovered the architects had forgotten to include toilets.

Nightingale advised on a new Australian nursing school

Nightingale’s major contribution to Australian nursing occurred when she was asked to establish a school of nursing at Sydney Infirmary.

The new nurses were expected to be a secular version of the other trained nurses in the colony, the Sisters of Charity.




Read more:
Florence Nightingale: a pioneer of hand washing and hygiene for health


Nightingale agreed to send nurses to Sydney, but largely left it to the matron of the UK’s St Thomas’s Hospital to choose them. Only later would Nightingale view the matron as someone who would not know “a sheep’s head from a carrot”.

The six nurses arrived in 1868. Most were inexperienced, including their leader Lucy Osburn. Nightingale tried to advise, but again the length of time letters took to arrive meant they were of little use. Problems mounted. Three years later, Nightingale disowned the project and deemed Osburn a failure.

Strict hygiene, hard work and patients first

Nightingale had been too hasty. Osburn learnt from her mistakes and persisted in her work. She implemented Nightingale’s key ideals including strict hygiene and conscientious, patient-centred nursing.

She demonstrated that nursing needed to be taught, rather than learnt from experience. As important, her nurses had reasonable pay and good living conditions in the Nightingale wing. Better conditions attracted nurses more able to implement the new standards of antiseptic practice.

Today’s nurses have reason to be ambivalent about Nightingale’s impact, but her ideals have helped ensure they are among the most trusted occupational group.The Conversation

Judith Godden, Honorary Associate, Department of History, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Tarpe Mills, 1940s comic writer, and her feisty superhero Miss Fury


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Miss Fury had cat claws, stiletto heels and a killer make-up compact.
Author provided

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In April 1941, just a few short years after Superman came swooping out of the Manhattan skies, Miss Fury – originally known as Black Fury – became the first major female superhero to go to print. She beat Charles Moulton Marsden’s Wonder Woman to the page by more than six months. More significantly, Miss Fury was the first female superhero to be written and drawn by a woman, Tarpé Mills.

Miss Fury’s creator – whose real name was June – shared much of the gritty ingenuity of her superheroine. Like other female artists of the Golden Age, Mills was obliged to make her name in comics by disguising her gender. As she later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Yet, this trailblazing illustrator, squeezed out of the comic world amid a post-WW2 backlash against unconventional images of femininity and a 1950s climate of heightened censorship, has been largely excluded from the pantheon of comic greats – until now.

Comics then and now tend to feature weak-kneed female characters who seem to exist for the sole purpose of being saved by a male hero – or, worse still, are “fridged”, a contemporary comic book colloquialism that refers to the gruesome slaying of an undeveloped female character to deepen the hero’s motivation and propel him on his journey.

But Mills believed there was room in comics for a different kind of female character, one who was able, level-headed and capable, mingling tough-minded complexity with Mills’ own taste for risqué behaviour and haute couture gowns.

Tarpe Mills was obliged to make her name in comics during the 1940s by disguising her gender.
Author provided

Where Wonder Woman’s powers are “marvellous” – that is, not real or attainable – Miss Fury and her alter ego Marla Drake use their collective brains, resourcefulness and the odd stiletto heel in the face to bring the villains to justice.

A WW2 plane featuring an image of Miss Fury.
http://www.tarpemills.com

And for a time they were wildly successful.

Miss Fury ran a full decade from April 1941 to December 1951, was syndicated in 100 different newspapers at the height of her wartime fame, and sold a million copies an issue in reprints released by Timely (now Marvel) comics.

Pilots flew bomber planes with Miss Fury painted on the fuselage. Young girls played with paper doll cut outs featuring her extensive high fashion wardrobe.

An anarchic, ‘gender flipped’ universe

Miss Fury’s “origin story” offers its own coolly ironic commentary on the masculine conventions of the comic genre.

One night a girl called Marla Drake finds out that her friend Carol is wearing an identical gown to a masquerade party. So, at the behest of her maid Francine, she dons a skin tight black cat suit that – in an imperial twist, typical of the period – was once worn as a ceremonial robe by a witch doctor in Africa.

On the way to the ball, Marla takes on a gun-toting killer, using her cat claws, stiletto heels, and – hilariously – a puff of powder blown from her makeup compact to disarm the villain. She leaves him trussed up with a hapless and unconscious police detective by the side of the road.

Tarpe Mills with her beloved Persian cat.
Author provided

Miss Fury could fly a fighter plane when she had to, jumping out in a parachute dressed in a red satin ball gown and matching shoes. She was also a crack shot.

This was an anarchic, gender flipped, comic book universe in which the protagonist and principle antagonists were women, and in which the supposed tools of patriarchy – high heels, makeup and mermaid bottom ball gowns – were turned against the system. Arch nemesis Erica Von Kampf – a sultry vamp who hides a swastika-branded forehead behind a v-shaped blond fringe – also displayed amazing enterprise in her criminal antics.


Author provided

Invariably the male characters required saving from the crime gangs, the Nazis or merely from themselves. Among the most ingenious panels in the strip were the ones devoted to hapless lovelorn men, endowed with the kind of “thought bubbles” commonly found hovering above the heads of angsty heroines in romance comics.

By contrast, the female characters possessed a gritty ingenuity inspired by Noir as much as by the changed reality of women’s wartime lives. Half way through the series, Marla got a job, and – astonishingly, for a Sunday comic supplement – became a single mother, adopting the son of her arch nemesis, wrestling with snarling dogs and chains to save the toddler from a deadly experiment.

Mills claims to have modelled Miss Fury on herself. She even named Marla’s cat Peri-Purr after her own beloved Persian pet. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Mills grew up in a house headed by a single widowed mother, who supported the family by working in a beauty parlour. Mills worked her way through New York’s Pratt Institute by working as a model and fashion illustrator.

Censorship

In the end, ironically, it was Miss Fury’s high fashion wardrobe that became a major source of controversy.

In 1947, no less than 37 newspapers declined to run a panel that featured one of Mills’ tough-minded heroines, Era – a South American Nazi-Fighter who became a post-war nightclub entertainer – dressed as Eve, replete with snake and apple, in a spangled, two-piece costume.

This was not the only time the comic strip was censored. Earlier in the decade, Timely comics had refused to run a picture of the villainess Erica resplendent in her bath – surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.

Erica in the bath, surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.
Author provided.

But so many frilly negligées, cat fights, and shower scenes had escaped the censor’s eye. It’s not a leap to speculate that behind the ban lay the post-war backlash against powerful and unconventional women.

In wartime, nations had relied on women to fill the production jobs that men had left behind. Just as “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged women to get to work with the slogan “We Can Do It!”, so too the comparative absence of men opened up room for less conventional images of women in the comics.

A Miss Fury paper doll cut out.
Author provided

Once the war was over, women lost their jobs to returning servicemen. Comic creators were no longer encouraged to show women as independent or decisive. Politicians and psychologists attributed juvenile delinquency to the rise of unconventional comic book heroines and by 1954 the Comics Code Authority was policing the representation of women in comics, in line with increasingly conservative ideologies. In the 1950s, female action comics gave way to romance ones, featuring heroines who once again placed men at the centre of their existence.

Miss Fury was dropped from circulation in December 1951, and despite a handful of attempted comebacks, Mills and her anarchic creation slipped from public view.

Mills continued to work as a commercial illustrator on the fringes of a booming advertising industry. In 1971, she turned a hand to romance comics, penning a seven-page story that was published by Marvel, but it wasn’t her forte. In 1979, she began work on a graphic novel Albino Jo, which remains unfinished.

Despite her chronic asthma, Mills – like the reckless Noir heroine she so resembled – chain-smoked to the bitter end. She died of emphysema on December 12, 1988, and is buried in New Jersey under the simple inscription, “Creator of Miss Fury”.

This year Mills’ work will be belatedly recognised. As a recipient of the 2019 Eisner Award, she will finally take her place in the Comics Hall of Fame, alongside the male creators of the Golden Age who have too long dominated the history of the genre. Hopefully this will bring her comic creation the kind of notoriety, readership and big screen adventures she thoroughly deserves.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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