This Week in History
Patients and Devotion: Georgina Fane Pope
For the week of Monday November 24, 2003
On November 30 1899, Georgina Fane Pope and the first Canadian contingent of nurses arrived in Cape Town to work in hospitals during the South African War. Known as “the Island’s Florence Nightingale,” Pope is remembered for her strong leadership skills and selfless devotion to her patients, particularly during the South African War of 1899-1902.
Born on January 1, 1862, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Georgina was the daughter of William Henry Pope, one of the Fathers of Confederation. At the time of Pope’s decision to pursue a career in nursing, the profession was only just beginning to gain recognition. Educated in nursing at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, “The Mother of Nursing Schools in North America,” she volunteered to travel overseas to serve the British Staff Medical Corps at the outbreak of the South African War.
The Canadian Military demonstrated its respect for nursing by assigning Canadian nurses full lieutenant status during their time in South Africa. Pope was head of all nursing services at Kroonstadt. The nurses endured long hours in crowded wards while under threat of attack, dealt with bug infestations and extreme temperatures, and subsisted on small food rations. During her second posting in South Africa, senior nurse Pope headed another contingent of nurses.
When Pope returned to Canada, she became the first Canadian to be awarded the Royal Red Cross, in appreciation for her dedication to ensuring that patients received superior quality nursing care during the South African War. In 1908, Pope was the first person to be awarded the position of Nursing Matron in The Canadian Army Medical Corps, which made her responsible for the permanent nursing sisters as well as the reserve nursing service. She played an essential role in the development of military nursing in Canada.
From 1911 onwards, Pope’s unwavering devotion to nursing took its toll on her health. Pope was finally well enough to be sent overseas to England and France to work in Canadian military hospitals from September 1917 to August 1918. When her health problems returned, she was sent back to Canada.
Pope retired to Prince Edward Island, where she spent the rest of her life. To commemorate her service to the military, Georgina Fane Pope was laid to rest in Charlottetown with full military honours on June 9, 1938. A person of national historic significance, she is recognized by a plaque in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
For further information about the development of nursing in Canada, please refer to NONIA: A Welcome Addition to the Community!, Ground Broken for New Nurses' Home, and Making Waves: Women in Uniform in the This Week in History Archives.
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