Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Sarah Gamp: Precursor of the nursing profession

Illustration of Mrs. Gamp by Frederick Barnard. From The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. Via Wikimedia.

Before the reforms introduced by Florence Nightingale, the nursing profession was exemplified by women such as the famous Sarah (Sairey) Gamp of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. Described as a fat woman with a husky voice and a moist eye, she wore dilapidated articles of dress picked up from several second-hand clothes shops. “The face of Mrs. Gamp—the nose in particular—was somewhat red and swollen—and it was difficult to enjoy her society without becoming conscious of a smell of spirits.” She had long been separated from Mr. Gamp on the ground of “incompatibility in their drink.”

She said that if it was not for the nerve a little sip of the liquor gave her, she would not have been able to go through what she sometimes had to do. Her bottle, she insisted, was always to be available on her “chimley piece” so she could put her lips to it whenever she was so “disporged”.

Spring 2022



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