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Civil Nursing

General information on nursing in India can be found in the book A Brief History of Nursing in India and Pakistan by Alice Wilkinson (1958).1 Wilkinson was associated with nursing in India for more than forty years and in 1908 was the first trained British nurse to join St Stephens Hospital, Delhi. Alongside a history of the development of the profession from its earliest times, she describes nursing specialities, including leprosy and tuberculosis work.

A History of Nursing in the British Empire by Sarah A. Southall Tooley (published 1906) has a section on India, pages 339-349.2 Interesting information in the book:

  • It is stated that the Calcutta Hospital Nurses Institution was founded in 1859 “with which is associated the Lady Canning Home, Calcutta, institutions doing valuable work today in supplying nurses to hospitals and in the training of skilled private staff."
  • Nurse training at the General Hospital, Madras and the Cama Hospital, Bombay was also mentioned. The latter is a hospital for women and children. It subsequently became affiliated with the Grant Medical College in 1923 and part of the Sir J.J. Hospital Group.
  • “The nursing of Europeans in India has been met to some extent in the large towns by the Clewer, Wantage and All Saints Sisterhoods and kindred private institutions." (Refer Religious Orders below).

Training and Hospital Nursing

This article abstract refers to the training of midwives in Madras in a Government lying-in [obstetrics] hospital from the 1840's

The nursing situation in the 1860s in Calcutta and elsewhere is described on page 66 of (Limited View Google Books) of Florence Nightingale and the Health of the Raj by Jharna Gourlay (2003). Read a review of this book by Ruth Compton Brouwer.

"Nursing in India" by Shubhada Sakurikar states that for many years nursing training was the preserve of Europeans and Anglo-Indians. The Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (JJ) Hospital (Bombay) was the first to train nurses in western India. The first Indian lady to come forward for nursing training was Bai Kashibai Ganpat in 1891 in Bombay, implying that European and Eurasians were training prior to this date. In the years that followed, nursing schools were established all over the country in collaboration with government, state and private hospitals.

Missionary women doctors in nineteenth century Delhi by Kaushik Das Gupta states that St Stephens Hospital, Delhi started a training School for nurses under Alice Wilkinson — the first trained British nurse who joined the hospital in 1908. Wilkinson became the hospital's nursing superintendent and is credited with raising the standard of nursing not only in St Stephen's but in the rest of India as well. She founded the Trained Nurses’ Association of India and worked as its secretary until 1948. This link is about St Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi.

Other books:

  • The Economic Development of India by Vera Anstey (first published 1929, reprinted 1977) mentions nurse training on page 81 Limited View Google Books
  • Our Viceregal Life in India, Volume I by Marchioness of Dufferin And Ava (2008) references Calcutta hospitals in 1885 (Limited View Google Books).


The Association of Nursing Superintendents was founded in 1905 at Lucknow. The organization was composed of nine European nurses holding administrative posts in hospitals. At the 1908 Annual Conference held in Bombay, a decision was taken to establish the Trained Nurses’ Association. This Association was inaugurated in 1909. The Association of Nursing Superintendents and the Trained Nurses’ Association were amalgamated in 1922 and renamed The Trained Nurses’ Association of India (TNAI).

The Up-Country Nursing Association for Europeans In India, founded in 1892 in the UK, sent trained nurses to India for employment under local committees nursing sick Europeans in up-country districts. Lady Minto’s Nursing Association, established 1906 in the UK, sent nurses to India, its chief object being to supply trained female nurses and midwives to patients requiring attendance either in their private residences or in public or private hospitals in any part of the Indian Empire. The former organisation later amalgamated with the latter.

The Royal College of Nursing Archives (Edinburgh) (see Other Libraries and Archives) holds the record "Lady Minto's Indian Nursing Association" (catalogue reference C/123). This British Journal of Nursing article gives staff numbers in 1926. Emma Wilson was working in India with the Lady Minto’s Indian Nursing Association from the 1920’s? until 1947. She was Chief Lady Superintendent from 1938 to 1947. Wilson wrote Gone With the Raj, published 1974.3

The Medical Missionary Association of India was established in 1905. In 1925 there was a name change to the Christian Medical Association of India


The Nursing Journal of India (Nurs J India) began publishing in 1912. It would be expected there would be mention of many individual nurses in the Journals. The British Library has the Nursing Journal of India from December 1926 (with a few scattered editions prior to this) to February 1939 and Cambridge University Library has an incomplete holding from 1935 to 1989. The Royal College of Nursing Archives in Edinburgh (refer section below) believes they have early issues of this Journal (or they can obtain them) but they are not in the computerised catalogue at present.

Historical UK Nursing Journals Online is a searchable database of PDF images showing journal pages. Search The Nursing Record / The British Journal of Nursing 1888-1956 image database. There are many mentions of India in these Journals. Examples include:

Nurse Registration


In England, legislation was passed in 1919 which became effective from 1921. The National Archives has Registers of Nurses from 1921 in the series DT 10. This link gives some details about records originating from the General Nursing Council for England and Wales. It seems likely that some Indian trained nurses were also registered in England, as there is an associated series DT 18 General Nursing Council for England and Wales: Registrar: Correspondence and Papers, Overseas, which has the following catalogue entries:

  • DT 18/72 West Bengal; (India) general 1937 June 7-1948 July 28
  • DT 18/76 India Office, London 1924 Mar 25-1941 Dec 22
  • DT 18/77 Nursing Council (In Sub series Bengal) 1921 Jan 18-1947 Oct 18
  • DT 18/101 General Hospital, Rangoon 1926 Oct 11-1935 July 12
  • DT 18/141 Trained Nurses Association 1923 Mar 15-1958 July 24
  • DT 18/146 Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta 1923 July 11-1932 June 21

The British Library has a catalogue entry: Nurses: registration under the Nurses Registration Act 1919 of Nurses on the Register of the State Medical Faculty of Bengal IOR/L/E/7/1167, File 4082 21 Aug 1923-13 Oct 1932. This link gives details of the State Medical Faculty of Bengal.


It appears that registration of nurses in India commenced on a Provincial basis, first in Madras in 1928 and in Burma from 1922. This RCN link is from October 1933 and indicates that the UK and Madras had reciprocal registration.

The British Library has two registers of nurses and midwives in Madras:

It has the following catalogue entries which indicate some of the particular Acts:

  • Medical: General questions - Bengal Nurses Act X of 1934 IOR/L/E/9/617 Collection 100/12, Aug 1933-Oct 1934
  • Medical: General questions - Punjab Nurses Registration Act 1932 with Amending Acts IOR/L/E/9/627 Collection 100/22, May 1932-Feb 1937
  • Medical: General questions - Central Provinces Nurses Regulation Act 1936 IOR/L/E/9/630 Collection 100/24, Dec 1935-Jan 1937
  • Medical: General questions - Bihar and Orissa Nurses Registration Act 1935 with Amendments IOR/L/E/9/637 Collection 100/31, Aug 1934-May 1947
  • Medical: General questions - Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Registration Act 1935 IOR/L/E/9/638 Collection 100/32, Mar 1935-Jun 1935
  • Medical: General questions - Orissa Nurses and Midwives Registration Act 1938 IOR/L/E/9/641 Collection 100/35, Aug 1938-Oct 1938
  • Medical: General questions - Sind Nurses, Midwives, Health Visitors and Dais Registration Act 1939 IOR/L/E/9/645 Collection 100/39, May 1939-Jun 1945
  • Medical: General questions - North West Frontier Province Midwives Act 1939 IOR/L/E/9/646 Collection 100/40, Jun 1939-Jul 1942
  • Burma Nurses and Midwives Act 1922 IOR/L/E/7/1156 File 1869, 5 Apr 1922-29 Mar 1928
  • As to the registration of nurses and midwives in Madras: enactment of legislation IOR/L/E/7/1350 File 2905, 12 Jul 1924-13 Sep 1935.

Religious Orders

  • The Clewer Sisters were Sisters from the Anglican Community of St John the Baptist from Clewer (near Windsor in England) who came to Calcutta in 1881. They were involved, at various times, with nursing at the Calcutta General Hospital, Medical College Hospital, and the Eden Hospital (a maternity hospital) and also with nurse training through the Calcutta Hospital Nurses Institution, which was based at the Lady Canning Home. Scroll to the end of this link for brief details of their work in India. This link describes the book Sisters of the Raj by Valerie Bonham, (which is available at the British Library), No Preview Google Books.
  • All Saints Sisters of the Poor: an Anglican Sisterhood in the Nineteenth Century by Susan Mumm (published 2001) Limited View Google Books indicates this order was in India from 1878. Available at the BL. All Saints Sisters were at the J.J. Hospital, Bombay from 1880 Limited View Google Books and at St George’s Hospital Bombay from 1885 until 1902 Western medicine and public health in colonial Bombay, 1845-1895 by Mridula Ramanna 2002 Limited View Google Books

Stolen Daughters, Virgin Mothers: Anglican Sisterhoods in Victorian Britain by Susan Mumm (1999) Limited View Google Books gives more details about these three Orders. Available at the BL.

Additional Books

  • Tales from the Inns of Healing: Of Christian Medical Service in India, Burma and Ceylon prepared under the direction of the Executive Committee of the Christian Medical Association of India, Burma and Ceylon 1942. Available at the British Library
  • Nursing History and the Politics of Welfare edited by A M Rafferty, J Robinson, R Elkan (1997) has a chapter called "Rescue and Redemption : the rise of female medical missions in colonial India during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries" by Rosemary Fitzgerald Limited View Google Books page 63. Available at the British Library.

Military Nurses in India

Female nursing was introduced in army hospitals in Madras in the late 1860’s, well before Calcutta, see page 73 (Limited View Google Books) of Florence Nightingale and the Health of the Raj by Jharna Gourlay (2003).

The Indian Nursing Service for the British Army in India was founded in 1888, when Miss Catharine Loch and five sisters went to Rawalpindi and Miss Oxley and three sisters went to Bangalore. Nurses were recruited in England. Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses, 1854-1914 by Anne Summers (1988), page 114 (Limited View Google Books), gives brief details of the conditions. The service became known as Queen Alexandra's Military Nursing Service for India in 1903, and in 1926 was amalgamated with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. This link gives more details. Select 'British Military Nurses' and scroll down to Queen Alexandra's Military Nursing Service for India. This QARANC article (Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps) details the history of the Queen Alexandra nurses in India. This link (Scarletfinders) is a Record Of Work in France Of Queen Alexandra’s Military Nursing Service For India during the First World War and this link on the same website contains descriptions of the various uniforms worn.

The work of Australian Army nurses in India in the First World War is decribed in Reading between unwritten lines: Australian Army nurses in India, 1916-19 by Ruth Rae. Australian War Memorial website. Describes the 34th Welsh General Hospital (34 WGH) at Deolali

Records at the British Library about Military Nursing

Records relating to nursing at the British Library include:

  • The Indian Nursing Service-Registers of Candidates IOR/L/MIL/9/430-432 (1887-1920). The nurses were recruited in England.
  • Collection 262 Indian Nursing Service IOR/L/MIL/7/11316-11616 (1886-1940), which includes items 262/1-270 and 262A/1-188 with many individual names mentioned.
  • Collection 262/103 IOR/L/MIL/7/11421 (1913) states "Candidates for Queen Alexandra's Military Nursing Service for India must either be of British parentage or naturalised British subjects."
  • Nursing sisters and higher ranks are recorded in the Indian Army List from 1891. Staff Nurses are recorded from 1926.

Other records are listed on this British Library webpage Indian Medical Service

Records at the National Archives

  • The National Archives Research Guide British Army: Nurses and Nursing Services (Military Records Information 55) has very limited reference to India
  • Military Nurses1856-1940 Searchable database at of five sets of records transcribed largely from those held at National Archives. These include 783 names from Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service. (Free to search but pay for full view)
  • Nursing Service Records, First World Warallows search and download of information. The records relate to "over 15,000 First World War service records for nurses who served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (Reserve) and the Territorial Force Nursing Service". Some records relate to a period before the First World War but none post date 1939.


  • A Memoir, by Catharine Grace Loch, Royal Red Cross, Senior Lady Superintendent Queen Alexandra's Military Nursing Service for India (published 1905) Full View No preview Google Book
  • The Maturing Sun: an Army Nurse in India 1942-1945 by A Bolton (1986). Available at the BL No Preview Google Books
  • Sister Sahibs; the VAD's with the 14th Army, 1944-46 by M Robertson (1987). Available at the BL No Preview Google Books
  • Catch Me a Nightingale by Joan Ash (1991). Available at the BL No Preview Google Books includes wartime nursing experience in India.


Other Libraries and Archives

  • Archive Search - browse or search the historical journals and read online, and browse or search the archive catalogue.
  • Library Catalogue. Some of the books mentioned in this article are also available at the Library in London.
  • Library in London W1
  • Restricted Online Archive from Teachers College Library, Columbia University
Search in “search and browse all items” using 'India, nurse' to see the books available. It may be possible to gain access to these online books. Read this page to find out how to contact the University Library.

FIBIS resources

The FIBIS database contains the following records:

External links

  • The kidnapping of Mollie Ellis from Kohat cantonment by Afridi tribesmen from the Khyber Pass region 14 April 1923 and the rescue expedition which included Mrs Lilian Starr matron at the Peshawar Mission Hospital: Article by Michael E Lambert, from his website html version, original pdf; Article from Lookand, Photographs from the Illustrated London News (26 May 1923 pages 894-895 ) An account of her rescue mission Tales of Tirah and Lesser Tibet by Lilian A Starr, published 1924 is available at the British Library
  • Mrs Adela Cottle (born Adela Collins) (1861-1940) Victorian Wars Forum thread dated 1 January 2012. She was active in the St John Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross in Calcutta, for over forty years, particularly during World War 1 and the post war period. Her awards included CBE, and the Kaisar-i-Hind silver medal in 1915 [1]


  1. The British Library has a copy of this book. You can search for a Library which has it, or see Google Books' No Preview link.
  2. A History of Nursing in the British Empire by Sarah A. Southall Tooley (published 1906) has a section on India, pages 339-349.
  3. Wilson's book is available at the BL and in snippet view on Google Books.


  1. page 23 of the Appendix, The Indian Biographical Dictionary 1915. Edited by C. Hayavadana Rao There was also an obituary in The Times [London] dated 22 February 1940.