There was a good deal of dissatisfaction during the Great War, particularly by Canadian and American nurses working in France, that dancing was forbidden to members of the nursing services, either in their own, or in Officers' Messes. There seemed to be little lack of understanding as to why this rule was in place, and what its advantages were, but it was frequently held up as an example of the petty bureaucratic practices which were seen to be in place only to restrict nurses' enjoyment while on active service overseas. Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief with the British Expeditionary Force in France, often pointed out that this was not her rule, but had been in force for many years after discussions between the War Office and the Nursing Board. She firmly believed that nurses should not lose sight of their purpose in France - that of caring for the wounded - and it would not help the morale of the soldiers to hear talk of dances and gaiety while they lay wounded and in pain.
So to put the record straight, I've found the source of the rule, and the action that followed. It started with a question in the House of Commons, put by Mr Athelstan Rendall, MP for Thornbury, Gloucestershire, to Richard Haldane on November 1st, 1906:
Mr. Rendall: I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether he will explain why nurses at Netley Hospital, and in the Army's service generally, are not permitted when off duty, except when on furlough, to take part in public or private dances, seeing that the prohibition does not apply to medical men in the same hospitals; whether a highly trained professional class, such as nurses, are to be placed in a different position on the ground of sex to officers in the Army, who, provided they are on duty at the appointed time have no restrictions placed on their use of time when off duty; and whether he will at once free the nurses from this interference with their liberty.
Mr. Haldane: I have consulted the Nursing Board which contains among its members many ladies of great experience in these matters, and they have advised to the following effect: 'The Nursing Board requires for Her Majesty's Nursing Service gentlewomen who are devoted first and foremost to their work for its own sake and the sake of their patients, and who will, therefore, desire to live quietly and unostentatiously without looking for much gaiety. Occasional attendance at operas, theatres, concerts, and other places of amusement is not incompatible with the due performance of their duties, and is allowed at discretion of the matron; but the late hours involved by attendance at balls and dances, in the opinion of the Board, incapacitates them from giving proper attention to their patients on the following day.
At a meeting a few days later, the Nursing Board discussed the rule and Sydney Holland moved that the Board should adhere to it, saying:
The main reason for the decision was that the late hours involved by attendance at balls and dances incapacitate Nurses for the due performance of their duties on the following day. If further reason is required it may be stated that the Nursing Board requires for Her Majesty's Nursing Service gentlewomen who are devoted first and foremost to their work for its owon sake and the sake of their patients, and who are content to live quietly and unostentatiously without craving for gaiety and excitement.
'It was therefore proposed by Mr Holland, seconded by Lady Roberts, that the Board adhere to the opinion expressed in the above quoted minute. Miss Stewart moved as an amendment that nurses in Military Hospitals should, in special cases, be permitted to attend dances under the strict supervision of the Matron, and provided that they return to their quarters by 12 o'clock midnight. The amendment was not seconded, but was put to the vote and rejected. Mr. Holland's proposal was then put to the vote and carried as a resolution of the Board.'