Thursday, 3 May 2012

A rose by any other name?

     I've recently been browsing through service records of members of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service (and its predecessors).  The records are held in ledgers very similar to those held by the Royal Navy for all their officers and ratings, and although brief they offer insights into the women's personalities and capabilities not present in the thicker service files of members of the army's nursing service. They are judged on conduct, ability, zeal, tact in dealing with both staff and patients, and above all, 'temperament.'  The first four categories are marked on a scale covering 'poor' through 'average' and 'satisfactory,' to 'very good,' 'exemplary' and 'exceptional.'  Temperament, however, is a different matter. The varied and many words used to describe these women's 'temperament' is astonishing, but they give a wonderful view of the changes that can occur during a woman's long career, and how people's perception of character can vary. But to sum up, they were:

     Quiet, reliable, cheerful (so often 'cheerful'), pleasant, bright, energetic, equable (also 'very equable' and 'extremely equable'), alert, keen, ladylike, calm, willing, adaptable, contented and thorough.
Some were diffident, subdued, unassertive and changeable; placid, variable, reserved and moody. Some were many of these things at different times, or seen by one reporting officer as 'firm and thorough' while another viewed them as 'inclined to be domineering.'  A few were reported as 'casual and untidy,' 'not dignified,' or 'somewhat pessimistic and argumentative' and 'occasionally sarcastic.'  Whatever their strengths and weaknesses, for those women who reached the heady ranks of Matron, almost without fail their final assessments reported them as 'quiet and dignified' which seemed to be the most sought after trait of personality. Age may not have wearied them, but it did turn them into proper ladies.

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