Oct. 7, 2015
VCU Libraries exhibition displays postcards of heroic WWI nurse
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A new exhibition at Virginia Commonwealth University will showcase a collection of World War I-era postcards that depict a British nurse who heroically treated soldiers from both sides of the war before she was ultimately executed by the Germans.
“Edith Cavell: A Nurse Who Did Her Duty,” at VCU Libraries’ Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, opens Friday, Oct. 9, and will run through Feb. 5, 2016. A reception will be held Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the library, located at 509 N. 12th St. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Edith Cavell (Dec. 4, 1865 – Oct. 12, 1915) was a British nurse who was recruited as matron of a medical school in Brussels, Belgium. Early in World War I, Cavell sheltered British soldiers from the German occupation and helped them flee to the neutral Netherlands. She was arrested by the Germans and put to death, prompting an international uproar and media frenzy.
Cavell became an icon of the war effort and the nursing profession.
“She is quite well known in Great Britain,” said Jodi Koste, university archivist and head of Tompkins-McCaw Library Special Collections and Archives. “The British used her as a propaganda weapon both in recruiting soldiers for the war effort and for general support at home of the war effort. She definitely became a martyr.”
Cavell is also famous in Belgium because she helped bring modern nursing methods to the country before World War I broke out. “In many ways, she’s considered the Florence Nightingale of Belgium,” Koste said.
As part of the exhibition, VCU Libraries has published an online gallery about Cavell and the postcards, which can be viewed here: https://gallery.library.vcu.edu/exhibits/show/edithcavell.
The postcards are part of a collection donated to Tompkins-McCaw Library Special Collections and Archives by Art and Kay Seidenberg. Art Seidenberg, Ph.D., is a biologist who taught in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and retired as assistant dean, and who serves on the board of the Friends of VCU Libraries. Kay Seidenberg graduated from the VCU School of Nursing in 1985.
In an interview with VCU Libraries, Kay Seidenberg expressed admiration for Cavell’s efforts.
“Leaving the comforts of home, giving up life on familiar soil, sacrificing to help others during wartime? It sounds like a soldier’s duties, yet Edith Cavell did that,” she said. “Sure there are some women today that would do the same, but in 1914–15 few women were in that position. She did what she believed in. I’m in awe of what she did.”
The new exhibition coincides with VCU Libraries’ launch of a digital gallery of the Seidenberg’s postcard collection. The digital gallery can be found at http://dig.library.vcu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/kay.
Leaving the comforts of home, giving up life on familiar soil, sacrificing to help others during wartime? It sounds like a soldier’s duties, yet Edith Cavell did that.
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