History of District Nursing


I’m currently researching district nursing, my very own area of work, for my current Work in Progress.  Below is an image of William Rathbone VI who, in 1859 and after employing a nurse to tend to his dying wife at home, then employed her to nurse the sick poor in his area of Liverpool. With help from Florence Nightingale, he set up a nurse training school in Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1863 and established ‘districts of nursing’ across Liverpool.


Although this is considered the beginnings of formal district nursing, care of the sick poor at home has been around for time immemorial, although it had been dependent on religious houses and charity. The newly-found Christian church saw the administration of nursing the sick and poor as one of its’ most important works. As far back as the first century AD (circa 55 – 58), a deaconess by the name of Phoebe is mentioned by St Paul. A deaconess was a lay female established to primarily to assist the church with the administration of relief to the poor and needy. Phoebe is noted to be highly intelligent and respected and has come to be known as the first district nurse, to put a modern spin on it. In the sixteenth century, over 100 female religious orders were founded to purely deal with nursing, although there was an order of men too – The Brothers of Mercy.



All images courtesy of Wellcome Library.









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