Home » Exhibitions » Spanish Flu: Nursing during history’s deadliest pandemic exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum – 21st September 2018 until 16th June 2019

Spanish Flu: Nursing during history’s deadliest pandemic exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum – 21st September 2018 until 16th June 2019

1918 flu in Oakland – credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

This September, the Florence Nightingale Museum will present a special exhibition that explores the devastating impact of the Spanish flu pandemic 100 years ago, and the role of both professional nurses in military field hospitals and ordinary women at home, in caring for victims.

Influenza – credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

Although overshadowed by the events of the First World War, the Spanish flu outbreak was a deadly influenza pandemic which struck in the autumn of 1918, just as World War I was drawing to a close. It is estimated that Spanish flu infected half a billion people worldwide and killed 50-100 million, significantly more than the war itself.

The pandemic was unusual because healthy young adults seemed to be particularly at risk and it created gruesome symptoms, including explosive nosebleeds and distinctive blue tinged skin caused by a lack of oxygen as their lungs filled with fluid and pus.

Demonstration at Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington DC – credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

With resources stretched already by the war, the scale of the pandemic was so vast, that essential public services broke down across the globe, hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, and a shortage of both coffins and gravediggers meant that the bodies of victims could remain unburied for weeks.

Influenza – credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

Against this background, the exhibition explores the often neglected role of the professional nurses and ordinary women who cared for the victims.

It was Florence Nightingale’s pioneering nursing work during the Crimean War that revolutionised the way nurses were viewed within society. With the outbreak of World War I, thousands of women were inspired to follow in her footsteps and volunteer as nurses. It was these women that would be vital in the treatment of casualties in the war and the victims of the Spanish flu in 1918.

 Berkeley, California. Open air Barber Shop during influenza epidemic – credit Wikimedia Creative Commons

The ‘Spanish Flu’ exhibition has been developed to six key themes through a variety of interpretation, interactives, films and object displays. These themes are:

The global impact and spread of the pandemic

What it was like to have Spanish flu and the unusual treatments and remedies used in a desperate attempt to combat the virus  

The impact of Spanish flu on everyday life

The experiences of both volunteer and professional nurses during the pandemic 

Spanish flu in popular culture and famous victims

The contemporary relevance of the 1918 pandemic

The exhibition will be supported by a diverse events programme, a free downloadable resource pack for schools, and a ‘pop up’ touring exhibition which will enable audiences beyond London to see core and digital content.

Spanish Flu: Nursing during history’s deadliest pandemic exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum – 21st September 2018 until 16th June 2019

Florence Nightingale Museum, 2 Lambeth Palace Road, Lambeth, London SE1 7EW

For more information, visit the Museum website here

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