on March 16, 2004
When young Michael Zwerdling left the University of Vermont in 1965 with a degree in psychology, he was still 14 years away from starting his collection of nursing postcards, and almost 30 years distant from the work he does today as a nurse in a busy emergency room in Washington, D.C.
Somewhere between the milestones of getting his bachelor's degree and RN license, Zwerdling instructed university students in psychology in New Hampshire; worked as a psychiatric aide in a Waltham, Mass., hospital; and taught karate, meditation, and yoga at his own school in Boston.
His considerable life experience seasons the pages of his first book, Postcards of Nursing. The stunning history not only depicts choice samples from his 25-year collection of nursing postcards, it delivers details, many little-known, about people, world history, art, and culture. The 384-page book is broader than even the "worldwide" its subtitle implies. Zwerdling's research spans time as well as place, offering a look at wars, critical nursing shortages, the Depression, art and humor. All the while it provides the history about who/what gave birth to the profession and why.
The basics: Postcards of Nursing exhibits 600 postcards from the years 1893 to 2002. The book's layout offers easy perusal by building a chapter the same way you'd lay out a museum exhibit. The reader walks through the pages just as he would go from room to room in a museum. For readers wanting more information about the pictures, each of the chapters starts out with a brief introduction and ends with detailed notes about many of the postcards. A bibliography and index prove useful for finding more information.
The rare images you see here indeed come from all over the world. Some are romanticized, some humorous, and some tragic. Some tell a story via sequential images and rhymed words. Nurses are not always people in the depictions, and neither are their patients.
Readers will also recognize some of the drawings from other milieu. Remember those round-faced kids on the sides of soup cans? Zwerdling's book includes the whimsical art of Grace G. Wiederseim, the woman who created the familiar Campbell's Soup Kids, except here her familiar kids are nurses and doctors. And here, as in many other areas, the author thoughtfully provides notes about the artist's life and death.
Zwerdling's extensive research also shows how nurses were used to tout everything from War Savings Stamps to stout, from telephones to fountain pens, and even to the danger of spreading tuberculosis by spitting. Using a nurse to sell a product or idea extends even to modern times, with a 1997 postcard from Denmark featuring an attractive blond nurse and the caption "AIDS is Still Here" as a reminder of World AIDS Day.
As is often the case, there's a story behind the story. The book is a product of the Zwerdling Nursing Archives, the author's personal collection of rare art and photographic postcards. Zwerdling selected each piece for its historic significance, artistic composition, and condition. Although nursing cards make up the primary collection, he also collects postcards with themes related to health. His HIV and AIDS postcards number about 300. He's amassed cards on controlled substances and pharmaceutical advertising, and as a sideline he collects greeting cards and other items related to nursing, storing each piece in archival Mylar.
"Were it to be lost, it would be impossible to replicate," Zwerdling says of his archives. "Many of the items are one of a kind, the prices have skyrocketed since I began collecting, and the cards were assembled via hundreds of sources cultivated over a 25-year period, through trips to France, Belgium, Germany and England."
Still, the collection is immortalized thanks to the book and to Zwerdling's belief in sharing. He makes the images available to nurses and people associated with nursing. He also licenses images for commercial use and offers them free to people researching the history of nursing. "Give of yourself," he advises in one interview when asked why he created the book.
Postcards of Nursing would not be out of place in anyone's library, but nurses with a reverence for the profession will treasure this book.
on November 17, 2003
"Postcards of Nursing: A Worldwide Tribute" is a wonderful book. The postcard images are outstanding, the text is exceptionally informative, and even the binding is dramatic.
At first glance this is an art book. The images, both color and black and white, are works of art in themselves in many cases. The color reproductions are dramatic and vivid; the black and white images, many with a slight sepia tone, seem so to the point that color would almost be a distraction. But after looking at the images I read the text and was impressed all over again. The author details the history of nursing postcards in a clear, highly readable style. The information given is unusual for a book of this type. There is a good history of postcards and postcard creators in general, and excellent descriptions of the cards' relationship to the world as a whole, covering such varied subjects as their importance in World War I, the evolution of the symbols of nursing, the first airline stewardesses, Star Trek, postcards as vehicles for propaganda, and the movies. The chapter on European royalty is especially impressive, given the complicated interrelationships among royal families, and the number of royals who were nurses. It must have taken a great deal of research to untangle it all.
The author's respect for nurses, even his love of the profession (he's an RN), shows everywhere in the book. Just the many years it must have taken him to collect all the postcards used in the book (some are a century old), to say nothing of the ones he must not have used, illustrate how much a labor of love this book is. The research, not just about European royalty, but about general postcard history, WW I, and movies and television, must also have taken a great many hours.
I highly recommend this book. Even if you're not a nurse or particularly interested in the field, and don't know anyone who would appreciate it as a gift, "Postcards of Nursing" is a fine, unique art book, as well as being uncommonly informative. As a tribute to nurses and nursing it succeeds admirably.
on January 4, 2005
Michael Zwerdling's book offers a fresh look at a century of nursing history worldwide, focusing on what he refers to as the Golden Age of Postcards (1907-World War I). This 9" x 12" hardbound coffee table book contains 580 full-color images from 65 countries. Opening it is like entering a series of galleries in which you can browse idly or focus with scholarly intent. There are photographs, cartoons, poster art and advertisements. In them, you'll find drama, history, whimsy, romance and, yes, hanky-panky, all of it eye-catching, The seven chapters are arranged more for visual compatibility than chronology or geography. Each is preceded by an introduction and followed by notes on the individual postcards. "Postcards of Nursing" explores new territory and, in my opinion, holds as much interest for the general public as it does for the international nursing community.
on February 22, 2004
I view this book as both an artist and a practicing clinical psychologist. From the artistic side, The richness of the imagery is nothing short of breath taking. Post cards were the media vehicle of the time. The cell phone and internet of all the people. The images that Michael has collected reflect the slice of life and slice of art that crossed all cultural boundaries. This might have been chaotic if the author had not displayed exquisite good taste in his selections. The wealth of images stimulates my creativity and gives me material inspiration for my own work.
As a psychologist, the interest is just as keen. What a fascinating mind the author has! He comes to the work from the vantage point of myth and symbol, pointing to the universality of issues of sickness, injury, and mortality juxtaposed against the equally universal themes of nurturance, service and healing. This comes from a person in the field, working as a trauma nurse in a major hospital.
Just as intriguing is the sociological point of view that places all these images in their political/ cultural contexts. We are told of fashion, war, royalty, advertising, and prejudice. I especially love the little human-interest stories that are sprinkled here and there.
What a first rate piece of work for those interested in the human condition. Nursing, per se, is not something I would have gone out and bought a book about, but glancing though a copy of this book hooked me. I am so happy to spend many hours visiting Michael's world. I would love the opportunity to pour through the cards that didn't make it into the book and get a curated tour by Mr. Zwerdling.
Sumner Silverman, Ph.D.
As the father of a son who is an R.N. and another son who has a Ph.D. in art history while being the son of a mother who collects early 20th century postcards, Postcards of Nursing was irresistible to me. I was delighted to find that the book greatly exceeded my high initial expectations.
Michael Zwerdling is an R.N. who has collected these wonderful postcards. He brings a deep appreciation of nursing to his collections. He also has a wonderful knowledge about nursing and its history that makes his essays and notes a joy to read.
The book contains much unexpected material that delighted me. In the first chapter, Mr. Zwerdling looks at the different ways that nurses have been symbolized in postcards, and goes on to provide helpful notes about the history behind those symbolic meanings. These symbols include being a healer, working in concert with Jesus and angels, servant care, guardian, lady with the lamp and mother. He goes on to describe the origins of many symbols used in connection with nurses such as the Cross of Lorraine, Cross of St. George (the familiar Red Cross) and Maltese Cross. His collection is worldwide, and many of my favorite examples come from Europe. In the symbolic chapter, see figures 1.5 (Italy), 1.35 (England-the Nightingale Memorial), 1.37 (Italy) and 1.42 (Italy).
Chapter two looks at 20th century postcard art and explores the freshness of youth we associate with young nurses, subtle relationships between those who nurse and are nursed by them, children pretending to be nurses, cartoons of animals as nurses, and nurse humor. See figures 2.8 (Germany), 2.10 (Italy), 2.20 (France), 2.26 (England), 2.41 (Spain), 2.47 (Japan), 2.50 (Netherlands), 2.64 (United States), 2.68 (France), 2.89 (USSR), 2.104 (Minnie Mouse), and 2.116 (Ending Sexual Harassment).
Chapter three investigates nurses on advertising postcards (often for "health" products, hospitals and fund-raising to cure diseases). This chapter includes a variety of nurses posing as telling the parents that a new child is a boy or a girl. These are overtly sexist in showing more enthusiasm for the boy announcements. In fact, throughout the book you will see many subtle reminders of other aspects of our culture.
Chapter four shows mostly photographic portraits of nurses and includes those who play nurses on the stage or screen as well as royal and aristocratic women who worked as nurses. The different styles of nursing caps and clothing are quite interesting in this section. One of my favorites is 4.69 where a young Shirley Temple is dressed as a nurse. There is also an interesting series about the Dionne quintuplets, first with their nurses, then dressed as nurses, then viewing infants in the hospital as grown women. This chapter includes a list of movies featuring "nurse" in the title.
Probably the most moving chapter is number five, War! Florence Nightingale got her start in the Crimean War, and women have played a major role in wars as nurses since then. There is a moving section about Nurse Edith Cavell who was executed during the First World War for helping soldiers escape the Germans. In this section, the author shares Nazi postcards of nurses following a page-long note explaining why he included them. Although some may be offended, the examples are few and the images are revealing of how nurses can be powerful symbols for both construction and destructive regimes. The notes to this section do a good job of describing the strains that World War I and the world-wide influenza epidemic played on the nursing profession.
Chapter six focuses on American photographic postcards (which include some women of color and some men) and chapter seven looks around the world.
The quality of the reproductions in the book is consistently outstanding when you consider that these are common items, intended to be thrown away after a brief perusal. The book contains hundreds of images and no viewer will fail to find dozens of interesting and rewarding ones to view . . . regardless of your tastes.
The book ends with an extensive bibliography for those who would like to pursue any of the many subtopics in the book (such as overcoming tuberculosis, nursing education, religious nursing orders, nursemaids, and biographies of the many outstanding nurses portrayed in the book).
I recommend this as a purchase to all nurses . . . and as a gift to those you love who are nurses. If a nurse has helped you through an illness, this book would also make a fine gift for her or him.
What else can I say about this fine book? It just makes you want to love a Nurse!
on February 21, 2004
I am most grateful to Michael Zwerdling, RN for the creation of this heart-felt tribute to the nursing profession. He has compiled a through and profoundly moving volume that details the history of nursing in a unique and beautiful manner. I could not help but be reminded of my own mother who was a dedicated nurse all her life.
The images in this book speak volumes of the loving kindness manifest by nurses in their care for people in sickness, while injured and their tireless efforts at providing comfort. His tribute is an outstanding expression of appreciation for the active compassion of all nurses.
Everyone who has a nurse in their family, or is the friend of a nurse, or who has benefited from the compassionate care of nurses while in hospital, might consider making a gift of this book to their favorite angel of mercy.
This book is an incredibly beautiful tribute to all nurses, our avatars of compassion and mercy.
on February 20, 2004
My first thought on encountering this book was, "Why postcards?" I've always thought of postcards, if I've thought of them at all, as trivial things that you buy for a quarter when traveling, to show your friends and family pictures of places you've visited. After reading this book, I can now tell you that postcards are much more than that. Postcards are windows in time and space, windows that give us a glimpse of art, history, and society. This particular book gives us glimpses of how nurses have influenced society in the 20th century, and how they, in turn, are viewed by that society.
Postcards of Nursing: A Worldwide Tribute is a beautiful book. The author states that his intention was to create an experience like an art gallery, and indeed, paging through this book is like walking through a very diverse art gallery. The variety of art represented here is incredible, representing a wide variety of artistic media and styles ranging from pointillism to manga. Many postcard artists were anonymous, but there are also postcards here with art by famous artists such as children's book illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott, for whom the Caldecott medal was named.
The book has much to offer from a historical perspective as well. Most of the major wars of the 20th century are represented here, as well as developments in medicine and technology and other historical events. There are sections on royalty and nursing, nursing in film, and advertising. Over 65 nations are represented here, giving a truly global perspective on nursing in the 20th century, Many of the postcards have extensive notes explaining various historical, social, or other details of interest. I was fascinated to read, for example, that Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia and her two oldest daughters trained as nurses and worked in a military hospital during World War I, enduring many horrors and tirelessly helping the wounded. This selflessness contrasts starkly with the way Alexandra is usually portrayed as being pampered, self-absorbed, and unaware of the problems existing outside the royal circle.
This book will be of special interest to postcard collectors and those involved with the nursing profession. It would make an excellent gift for a nurse. In a broader sense, however, anyone who is interested in art, history, or society in the 20th century will find this a fascinating book.
on December 17, 2007
I am a nurse myself and chose this book to give to a recent nursing grad. It is a gift that helps to underscore the diversity within the career of nursing and the "postcards" provide both inspiration and humor.
on July 8, 2014
Beautiful book of the "coffee table" variety. Very large and very heavy. I was surprised as I had not looked at the dimensions. It's wonderful. Anyone associated with the nursing profession would love it. So much history about nursing thru the use of postcards. Every variety of postcard is in here, some are small works of art. It really must be seen to be appreciated. Highly recommend for anyone in nursing. Would make a great graduation gift.