Background to the ANA Nightingale letter

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Miss Alice Fisher, born in England June 13, 1839, trained at the Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses. Between the years 1876 and 1888, Alice Fisher reformed the nursing services of four important general hospitals – a feat that has probably never been equaled by any other woman, according to Sir Zachary Cope, M.D., - author of Florence Nightingale and the Doctors.

In 1876, she volunteered to be superintendent of the Fever Hospital, Newcastle on Tyne, where she found wards dirty and unkempt. Under her direction, the hospital known as a “pest house,” was cleaned, nurses trained, and the institution lost its notoriety for ward filth.

Miss Fisher was next called to reorganize the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, and then went to Addenbroke’s Hospital in Cambridge. In 1882, she became superintendent of the General Hospital in Birmingham, remaining to establish a school of nursing.

Miss Fisher wrote to Miss Nightingale on November 23, 1877 from Addenbrooke Hospital, at Cambridge. In her letter, Miss Fisher recounts the difficulties and problems she encountered establishing a worthwhile nursing program and staffing it with good trained nurses. When she went to America to reorganize nursing in the Philadelphia City Hospital (now Philadelphia General Hospital), she faced a political machine that opposed her reformation. She received threatening letters, and even faced bombings.

Then she writes:

….”and now dear Miss Nightingale forgive me if I ask you a very great favor: this is our first Christmas here together – will you write my children and me a little message of encouragement that I may read them on that day. It will be such a help to us all. I should not dare to ask you only I know that you take an interest in and are willing to help even our heartfelt endeavours [sic] to walk worthy of our profession. Forgive me this long letter and believe me every your grateful servant, [s] Alice Fisher”

The ANA Nightingale letter is Miss Nightingale’s response to Miss Fisher’s request for words of encouragement.

After Fisher completed her work in the English hospitals, which included establishing a school of nursing, she travelled to the U.S. in 1884 where she created order from chaos in the Philadelphia City Hospital (now Philadelphia General Hospital) and established the hospital’s training school.

Her nursing career was brief – a mere 13 years after training – but remarkably productive. She died of heart disease in 1888, and is buried in The Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.

The letter was presented to ANA by Edith G. Walker, associate professor, Division of Nursing, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Ms. Walker, who acquired the letter from a London antique dealer wrote: “The letter is really an inspiration for nurses today…”

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