Address to the Mary Adelaide Nurses

Address to the Mary Adelaide Nurses  (1883) 
by Lady Henry Scott




Read by Lady Henry Scott at 10, Great George Street,
on May 10, 1883





My Friends,

I have been asked by Mrs. Talbot to say a few words to you this evening before we separate, and I wish first to explain that though I am unknown to you personally, I am no stranger to our Association, having taken a part in it from the time it was first started four years ago. On the occasion of your tea last year I know that Miss Twining, whose absence we all so much regret, spoke to you as I am doing now; but as I was unable to be present, and do not know the details of her address, I must ask you to excuse me if I say over again any of the things she said. Perhaps if they are in any degree true or useful they will be none the worse for being repeated.

Now it has seemed to me, in thinking over your work, that it may be considered under three aspects—as regards the Association, as regards your patients, and as regards yourselves. First, as regards the Association. We, the members of the Working Committee, are very anxious that you should keep in mind the fact that you do belong to an Association. We want you to remember that you are not isolated workers, each looking out for employment only on her own account and in her own way, having no one to care particularly whether you do well or ill what you have undertaken to do. You are members of an honourable body; you have the name of that body to guard from contempt or distrust; you have the aims of that body to work for and fulfil. In the French language there is an expression which is not familiar to us in its English form, but which forcibly describes the feeling we wish to arouse in you on this point. It is this:—"Esprit de corps." These words, literally translated, mean "the spirit of the body," and I think you will not need much explanation of the idea conveyed by them. It is the idea which binds together the soldiers in a regiment, the sailors in a ship, the members of clubs, guilds, societies of all kinds in which men or women act in unison for a common object, and feel that they each ought to support a share of the honour and credit due to their common name. It might be said, perhaps, that as we are already bound to do our duty to the utmost of our power by our membership in that great body to which we were admitted at our baptism, no other bond or obligation can be needful; but that is no reason why we should not avail ourselves of additional motives and additional helps, and thus gather special strength and zeal for the performance of special duties.

Now you, Mary Adelaide Nurses, bear the name of one of our Princesses, who graciously gives you not only her name but also her personal interest and sympathy. We want you to be proud of this name, to cherish it and honour it, to strive each one of you so to wear it that a Mary Adelaide Nurse may be known, without further description, to be a good, upright, conscientious, skilful woman, understanding her work and doing it thoroughly, "not with eye service as men-pleasers." Remember that ours is a pioneer association; we are trying to occupy ground which has not been occupied in the same manner before, and to lead the way in what, we hope, will shortly be a general advance in the whole system of Workhouse Infirmary nursing. You, our nurses, are called upon to carry out this aim: upon you must depend the possibility of attaining it; for it lies with you, in many cases, to convince the guardians and doctors, by practical demonstration, of the advantages of trained over untrained nursing, and to dissipate the fears and prejudices with which some of them have met the effort to introduce it. There is, no doubt, greater variety and excitement in ordinary hospital nursing, greater comfort and independence in private nursing; but we think you will see, if you look at it rightly, that a peculiar interest attaches to vour work from the very fact of its being, as I said before, pioneer work—trying to overcome obstacles, to remedy evils, to show and to bring home to others the best way of doing what has hitherto been too often done badly or inefficiently. Surely you will feel that this view throws upon you a responsibility which you will not be unwilling to accept, but which will rather stimulate and help you to exert your best energies, to maintain a high and careful standard both as to technical details of nursing and as to general character, and to guard watchfully against any indiscretion, slovenliness, or insubordination, which might injure your own influence and jeopardize the good name of the body to which you belong.

I will now turn to my second point, your work in its aspect towards your patients. We know, as I said just now, that as a rule the ailments treated in Workhouse Infirmaries present less variety and interest, medically speaking, than those in ordinary hospitals. There are fewer acute illnesses, fewer accident cases, and the diseases are probably, on the whole, of a more chronic and monotonous type. But do they therefore need less the benefit and comfort of trained nursing? Does the helpless paralytic, or the victim to confirmed rheumatism, or the incurable cripple, or even the sufferer from the inevitable infirmities of feeble old age, call for less of your skilled and kindly care than if each was laid on his bed by a dangerous fever or a violent injury? I think not—and I am sure that no one of us who has had personal experience of illness will deny that at times of weary restlessness or languor, or under the irritation of chronic discomforts, the firm and gentle hand and the ready resource of the trained nurse are as gratefully welcomed as in moments of sharpest pain or most imminent peril. But let me say more than this, my friends—when you are tempted, as you often may be, to brood in a repining or discontented spirit over the difficulties of your work, to meet impatience with sharp words, to treat harshly the unreasonable or selfish fancies of those to whom you minister—when these temptations assail you, will you think of and say over to yourselves just one little sentence out of the 25th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel—(I am sure you all know it well), "I was sick and ye visited Me." Think of that when you are tired and discouraged—think of it when your poor charges are most exacting and irritable—think of it amidst all the repulsive forms of disease which you may be required to tend—think of it when your skill appears to be rewarded by no recognition, your kindness by no gratitude—think of it when your days seem hard or your nights lonely—think that by each pauper bedside, as you answer the feeble call, or raise the weary head, or quiet the fretful moan, stands that Divine Figure, saying, "I was sick and ye visited Me"—and then look on to the time when your work on earth will be over, and if by His infinite grace and mercy you are standing at His right Hand, you will hear that same Voice saying, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me."

Lastly, my friends, I will add but a few words on the third point I originally mentioned—namely, the personal aspect of your work, the way in which it may affect yourselves. We all know that this nursing work is your livelihood just as much as any other occupation would be, and it is both natural and right that you should look upon it in this light as well as in a higher one, and feel that by the skill and knowledge and experience you have acquired you should be able to maintain yourselves in respectability and comfort. You cannot give your time and your labour for nothing; but we want you to feel that there is something you can give, "without money and without price"—something you are not paid for, and which, unless you give it of your own free will, no money can buy. You can give your heart, your sympathy, your zeal, your whole selves, in short, to your work; you can make it something much better and higher than the mere mechanical performance of a routine of duty; and you may be sure that work thus done will be twice blessed—it will bless you who give and them who receive. You know that every profession or occupation, if it is innocent, may and should be sanctified: "whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do," we may do all to God's glory: as is so beautifully said by Mr. Keble in one of the hymns in the "Christian Year"—

"The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God."

But, under some circumstances, for instance amidst the bustle and distraction of shop life, or the homely details of housework, it may be difficult at times to realise this, and to lift the mind to the lighter aspect of these uninteresting and monotonous duties. Surely, then, it is a special privilege and blessing when, as in your case, this is made natural and easy, when it is not the employment that should be sanctified, but the employment that should sanctify. I think no one can dwell on the thoughts suggested by those wonderful words out of Saint Matthew's Gospel, which I quoted just now, without feeling that a nurse should be holy—holy in all manner of life and conversation—spreading a holy influence around her—made and kept holy by her daily work. That daily work is in itself one of what have been called the "Seven Works of Mercy:" it brings her continually near, not only to suffering and disease, but to death itself: she lives, as it were, under the shadow of that Hand which alone can cast down or raise up, can smite or make whole. Should she not therefore realize also, very specially, the continued presence of Him "Who giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might increaseth strength"—Who pities us "like as a father pitieth his own children," because "He knoweth our infirmities and remembereth whereof we are made?" Should she not look, very specially, to the Cross which our blessed Master bore for us, "leaving us an example that we should follow His steps," and "arm ourselves likewise with the same mind?" Should she not cherish, very specially, the "fellowship" of the Comforter Whose sweet inflnence alone can bring to the sad hearts around her the peace and joy which "pass all understanding?"

We know that in the case of many amongst you the opportunities of attending religious services, more particularly the Holy Communion, are few, and this is a loss and privation which we are disposed to say that we hope you feel keenly; but there is an old Latin saying, "Laborare est orare"—work is prayer—which may suggest to you the best consolation and the best remedy. While you are working for the poor and the sick, at the cost may be of your own wishes and inclinations, giving up for their sake what you would like to do yourselves, you are offering up a sacrifice which He to whom it is offered in this spirit will, you may humbly hope, accept; and I think you need not doubt that if you never willingly turn away from such means of grace as are placed within your reach, your spiritual life will not be allowed to starve for want of such additional nourishment as might be supplied by fuller opportunities.

My friends, there is much more that might be said in relation to the various points which I have only touched upon; but we did not wish to occupy much of your time by this little address, and perhaps you will think them over yourselves and thus supply what has been necessarily omitted. I will end by saying this: we hope that year by year more of you will be able to assemble at our annual gathering, and a larger number become entitled, by steady, persevering, and conscientious work, to the honourable distinction of the Princess's medal; so that in years to come the name of the Mary Adelaide Nurses may take its place unquestioned on the noble roll of those whose lives have been given to the service of the sick and suffering, whose labours have, in their measure, diminished the sum total of human misery, and of whom may some day be spoken those Divine words of commendation—the highest that any of us can aspire to—"She hath done what she could."

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.