As part of our project on histories and futures of advanced wound care, we have been working with Special Collections at the University of Leeds to enable increased awareness of and access to the papers of Dame Kathleen Raven, the UK’s Chief Nursing Officer from 1959-72. Her archive, held at the University, offers a rich insight into the life and work of one of the key architects of modern British nursing, including important records of nurse training in the mid-1930s, her own experiences as Matron at Leeds General Infirmary shortly after the founding of the NHS in 1948, and her efforts to modernise and professionalise nursing later in her career.
We have supported the digitisation of several of Dame Kathleen Raven’s notebooks from her training. These include notes taken during lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and the City of London Maternity Hospital on a huge range of medical-related topics, including dietetics and surgery, anatomy and physiology, and gynaecology, drugs and the skin. An important of her training – and standard practice at the time – involved learning how to care for patients with surgical and chronic wounds. For example, during ‘Mr Hume’s Surgical Lectures’, Raven noted that in the case of immobile patients ‘[a]ny interference with the blood supply of the part, especially in ill people, may lead to the formation of an ulcer. When the skin is devitalised, organisms from the surface of the skin may invade the tissues, and this occurs commonly in bad nursing.’ (Kathleen Raven Papers, MS.1721/2/4).
The history of nursing itself has remained a largely neglected area in wider histories of medicine. This is at odds with the historical importance of nursing in healthcare, and the critical role played by nurses in the modern clinic and in the community. By making available primary sources such as these we hope that nursing histories – a key aspect of wound care – and histories of medical education and specialisation might become increasing objects of focus for future research.