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Nursing ancestors during history's deadliest pandemic, Spanish Flu

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An exhibition marking 100 years since the deadliest pandemic in human history is opening at London’s Florence Nightingale Museum.

 

The exhibition highlights the devastating impact of the Spanish flu pandemic, and the role of both professional nurses in military field hospitals and ordinary women at home in caring for victims. Spanish flu struck in the autumn of 1918, just as World War I drew to a close. It is estimated to have infected half a billion people globally and killed 50-100 million, significantly more than the war itself.

 

Healthy young adults were particularly vulnerable. Victims suffered gruesome symptoms, including explosive nosebleeds and distinctive blue tinged skin caused by lack of oxygen in their fluid-filled lungs.

 

The scale of the pandemic was so vast that key public services broke down worldwide, hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, and a shortage of coffins and gravediggers meant victims’ bodies could remain unburied for weeks.

 

Nursing ancestors? These stories may interest you too:

• Service Scrapbooks: Nursing and storytelling in the First World War – new website from the Royal College of Nursing

• Records of 1.5m nursing ancestors online for the first time

 

Florence Nightingale’s pioneering nursing work during the Crimean War revolutionised the way nurses were viewed. With the outbreak of the First World War, four years after her death, thousands of women followed her lead and volunteered as nurses. Following the Spanish flu outbreak, doctors were at a loss to treat or prevent it. Only good nursing seemed to help, so it often fell to women to care for victims.

 

Using its expertise, collections and knowledge of nursing, the Florence Nightingale Museum has developed an exhibition offering a variety of interpretations, interactives, films

and object displays about this global tragedy.

 

The exhibition, which is free with paid museum admission, runs from 21 September 2018 until 16 June 2019 and will be supported by a diverse events programme, a free downloadable resource pack and a pop-up touring exhibition.

 

Find out more here.

 

 

Image: American Red Cross production workers making flu masks in 1918, courtesy of the American Red Cross Archives.

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