Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Talented Tuesday - A "Brown Dog" Nurse

Marjorie Thompson
Marjorie Thompson (1910-1945) was born in Hartlepool in County Durham in the north of England. Her father's family had lived in County Durham and the neighbouring county of North Yorkshire for at least 500 years, but her mother's family - the Newnhams - had only moved north from London in the 1870s.

In the late 1920s, Marjorie left Durham for London to train as a nurse.  Marjorie's motivations for choosing to train in London are not clear.  The impact of the great depression on the north east of England was severe and Marjorie's father lost the small shop he kept in the mining village of Esh Winning as a result of it, but Marjorie actually left for London at least 6 months before the stock market crash of October 1929, which is generally seen as the start of the depression and so, it may have been the still strong family ties of the Newnham family that drew her south.

Battersea General Hospital
There may also have been a desire to train at a particular and unique hospital, as Marjorie chose to qualify at the infamous Anti-Vivisection Hospital in Battersea.  Founded in 1896, by a leader of the Anti-Vivisection Society, the hospital would only employ doctors and staff committed to anti-vivisection principles, as a consequence of which, the vast majority of staff were women, including at times all the doctors.

The hospital's founding principles put it in conflict with much of the medical establishment.  In its earliest years it was caught up in the Brown Dog Riots in which anti-vivisectionists, suffragettes and trade unionists fought against medical students from the pre-eminent University College Hospital (UCH) over a statue in Battersea dedicated to a brown dog that had supposedly been killed in UCH experiments.

Marjorie Thompson Battesea General HospitalMore seriously, the hospital was repeatedly refused funding by the King Edward's Hospital Fund on the grounds that "the hospital does not comply with those general conditions which they consider should govern any hospital best designed for the relief of the sick poor ..." (1)  As a result of this the hospital depended almost completely on funding from anti-vivisection supporters and by the time Marjorie started her training in March 1929, was in a perilous financial state.
Marjorie Thompson Nursing Award
Despite the difficulties of the hospital, Marjorie herself appears to have flourished.  After four years training at Battersea and at the much larger, (and more respected!), St James Hospital, Balham, she qualified at the top of her class and was awarded the inaugural St Francis of Assisi Award, which was just the start of a very successful nursing career.

Nancy Thompson Battersea GeneralThe Anti-Vivisection Hospital, however, was unable to survive in the face of so much opposition.  It was already relaxing its founding principles whilst Marjorie was a student and after coming perilously close to closure in 1935, its board went to the High Court to overturn the anti-vivisection statutes upon which it was founded. (2)

By the time Marjorie's younger sister, "Nancy" Thompson, completed her own training just three years later in 1936, the hospital had been re-founded as the Battersea General Hospital and - shorn of its anti-vivisection values - welcomed into the arms of the medical establishment.

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  1. This is such a interesting post, thank you.

    1. Thanks so much - was fascinating to uncover as I went through my great aunts' belongings. So grateful that they kept so much from their nursing careers.

  2. It looks like Marjorie died young. What happened to her?

    1. Very sadly she did in 1945 just after the end of the war in Europe http://wecamefrom.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/obituary-sunday-wartime-nurse.html

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you so much - my g-aunts both left amazing amounts of records from their nursing careers which are proving a real treasure trove