Tropes: Nurses


Whether it is guardian on the battlefront, or vixen in the emergency room, the representation of the nurse has changed and developed over time to reflect the different ideas of nurses, like gender roles and norms, as well as healthcare and medicine.  

Cigarette Advertisement 

Camel Cigarettes, 1932

Here is an advertisement from 1932 for Camel cigarettes featuring a nurse. The very idea of a nurse, or someone else in the health/medical field advocating the use of cigarettes is completely ironic. However, in the early 1930’s, when this advertisement was published, smoking cigarettes was the norm. The detrimental effects cigarettes had on one’s health had not yet been discovered, and cigarettes had not yet become taboo, so it was not uncommon to see a nurse or doctor smoking. The creators of the advertisement most likely chose a nurse to be featured in their ad because they knew that people would follow the advice of a healthcare professional; therefore, if someone sees an ad with a nurse smoking Camel cigarettes, then they will be more likely to buy Camel cigarettes because if they are good enough for nurses, then they are good enough for the people of the public. The nurse herself is very young and attractive, which is most likely another reason for choosing her; people look at the ad and see a young and attractive woman smoking Camel cigarettes, they are going to want to go out and buy a pack, so they can be just like her. Today, an ad featuring a nurse smoking a cigarette would be completely unheard of, unless it was used to advise against smoking. The only smoking ads that are up and running now, are ads designed to persuade people to stop smoking. 

Book Cover 

Night Nurse, David Charlson, 1951

This is the cover of a book titled Night Nurse written by David Charlson in the 1950’s and published by Venus Books. Using deductive reasoning and context clues, one can conclude that this is a rather obscene book, based off the title, the illustration on the cover, which shows a nurse standing in such a way that certain aspects of her physique are prominently displayed, as well as the quote at the top. Something that is extremely common, now and back in the 50’s, is the over sexualization of nurses. Come Halloween every year, “sexy” nurse costumes are lining the shelves at retail stores, with extra short skirts and low-cut tops. Most even include the little hat that was part of the uniform in the early to mid 20th century. Being that this book was written in the 1950’s, it is not surprising that there is an entire genre of books, labeled Nurse Pulp, written about this idea, since the world was still, for the most part, lacking women’s rights and women were still viewed as objects rather than actual human beings. Back then, women could not even do their jobs, jobs where the health and wellbeing of others depended on them, without becoming the object of men’s fantasies. With the advancement of healthcare and medicine, as well as more and more male nurses breaking the gender stereotype, the over sexualization of nurses is not as common today as it was back in the 50’s; however, women continue to be sexualized in their profession, whatever that happens to be. 


Russian Woman Illustration, Alexander Nayden, 1914

In this 1914 illustration by Russian artist Alexander Nayden, an upper-class Russian woman is seen giving away all of her belongings and, essentially, her wealth, to become a nurse. In the early 20th century, that is essentially what it took to become a nurse: giving up everything you held near and dear to you. Because of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all the other battles in the 20th century, nurses were desperately needed, within the country as well as out of the country, helping soldiers wounded in battle. Nurses were needed in local hospitals for the normal sicknesses and injuries seen in a neighborhood hospital, but they were also needed overseas, on the battlefield, to take care of and mend the wounded soldiers back to health so they could continue to fight in the war. Today, with as far as health, medicine, and technology have come, nursing school usually takes about two to three years, as well as $40,000 to pay for it. Obviously, the amount of schooling and money required to become a nurse were much less a hundred years ago. However, the schooling and the job itself were no less demanding. The Russian woman giving up everything is, in a way, accurate to nursing student’s today; they are giving away tens of thousands of dollars to become educated in medicine, and all their time, which they devote to studying and practicing to perfect certain methods.  


Sources: nurse/ 155/