The ninth object in our series celebrating Norland’s 130-year history is a letter from one of the first students to receive a student bursary from Norland. Since 1897, Norland has offered funding to support students with the costs of accessing its unparalleled training. Norlander Alice Gibbs’ letter – along with other first-hand accounts – offers a unique glimpse into the experience and career of those early funded Norland students.

In 1971, Nurse Alice Gibbs wrote a letter to Norland which was subsequently published in the 1972 issue of the annual graduate newsletter The Norlander, which was introduced in 1968 as a successor to the Norland Quarterly. In her letter, Nurse Gibbs reflected on her experience entering Norland in 1916 as a Maiden (as students undertaking a year of work in return for a reduced fee rate were known).

Principal Sharman launched the Maidens scheme in 1904 to enhance existing student funds.

Since 1897, funding had been available to support students with the costs of fees in the form of a grant from the Foundation Fund, set up by Nurse Maud Seppings with donations from nurses. However, the fund was only able to support one student at a time. When the course fees reached £80 at the turn of the century, they were considered a barrier to some students.

To support more students without the means to access Norland’s training, Principal Sharman launched the Maidens scheme in 1904. Successful applicants were required to work for a year undertaking light housework before enrolling as students for the much-reduced fee of £12. The scheme was aimed specifically at supporting applicants under 21 years, while those over 21 without the means to cover Norland’s increased fees were supported by the Loan and Foundation funds. Four Maidens places were offered each year.

a black and white photo of a lady

“The happiness and success of their experiment will depend largely on the treatment they receive from all members of the Institute”.

There were some difficulties with how to determine the status of Maidens. Society at the time required rigid lines to be drawn between those who supplied and those who received a service. Norland did not wish to draw a line between students who had paid full fees and those who had not. The title of Maiden was introduced to help distinguish these future students from servants. They were given a different uniform (a dark blue dress and muslin apron and collar) and separate dormitory while working to further distinguish them from servants.

In the Quarterly of March 1904, Isabel Sharman wrote to Norlanders to stress the equality of Maidens: “When you come to the Institute after Easter the door will be opened to you, and your meals served to you by a Maiden in a special dress, who will tell you (if you ask her) that she is a Norland Maiden, in the same social position as yourself, earning her training by undertaking for a year a portion of the domestic service of the house. Three or four of these Maidens are beginning their work in April, and the happiness and success of their experiment will depend largely on the treatment they receive from all members of the Institute, probationers, nurses — private and badge nurses — and staff.”

“Our latest innovation is the Maidens, and I want you to take an interest in them.”

At the first reunion of Norlanders in summer 1905, Principal Sharman touched upon the new scheme during her address. “Our latest innovation is the Maidens, and I want you to take an interest in them. … The life is monotonous and the discipline is strict, but so far all have survived it and looked all the better for it.”

Nurse Alice Gibbs was the last trainee to be interviewed by Principal Sharman. Alice wrote of her duties: “I entered as a ‘Maiden’ in 1916; I had to be up by 6am and thoroughly clean a gigantic Eagle Range in the kitchen basement of No. 10 Pembridge Square every morning. I then had to cook breakfast for all the Probationers and Students by 7am.” (Probationers were first–term students).

“I then had to lay, clean and light two further fires – the office one on the ground floor and the basement one in the Staff Room. I also had to scrub a massive wooden kitchen table each day.”

Despite the hard work and the reduced luxuries of time spent away from duties in the evenings or on Sunday afternoons, Alice remembered her experience fondly. “I am thrilled when I receive my copy of the Norlander,” she enthused. “It wakens up years for me.”

a black and white photo of people doing laundry

“I find great strength in past pride of being a Norlander— ‘Once a Norlander, always a Norlander’.”

Another reminder of a very different time was the requirement that Maidens gave up their first names for their working year and were known instead as Honour, Verity, Prudence or Mercy. This was another measure adopted to help students retain their own identity separate from their identity as working Maidens, ensuring they would more easily be accepted as equals when they reverted to their first name as student nurses. “I was Honour,” remembered Alice. “Imagine such a thing today!!”

Alice reflected that “we were all happy and learnt much; things that have stood me in good stead throughout my life. In my first post my salary was £2.10s per month!”

“And after all that, here I am at seventy-five, still able to work. I find great strength in past pride of being a Norlander — ‘Once a Norlander, always a Norlander’.”

“Thinking back we laughed a great deal.”

Alice’s contemporaries, Dinah Gifford and Alice Earl, entered as Maidens in 1919 undertaking similar housework duties. They later moved to 11 Pembridge Square where the children’s nurseries were based, and here they prepared all meals for the nurses, children and staff under the supervision of the domestic science teacher. “We never scrubbed floors or tables as daily women came in who prepared the days vegetables, washed saucepans, cleaned floors and kitchens.”

Like Alice, they remembered the experience happily: “Thinking back we laughed a great deal. I never remember any of us being ill, and we accepted our lack of cash quite happily.”

Fifty years later, one former Maiden was bringing up the third generation of the same family.

The scheme was an undoubted success. The demand for the Maidens scheme was such that in 1919 a new category of Probationary Maidens was introduced to accommodate the queue of applicants. Many Maidens returned to work at Norland in their later careers.

It was a Maiden that set a record for long service to the same employer. In 1969, Nurse Dorothy Badham received a special prize for her loyal service to one family. Having started as a Maiden in 1917, Nurse Badham took up her first post as a Norlander with the Moinet family in 1919. Fifty years later, she was bringing up the third generation of the same family.

While the scheme has changed over the years, student funding remains a firm commitment at Norland over 120 years later. Today’s Emily Ward Bursary scheme supports more than one in five students with the cost of their studies, supported by income from its inhouse employment agency, the Norland Agency. Much like its earlier incarnations, the Emily Ward scheme specifically targets students from lower income households and underrepresented groups to ensure that the excellent training and life-changing opportunities Norland offers are available to all.

Take a look at other objects in this series

a black book with registered names of first Norland students

The history of Norland in 13 objects: the first black book from 1892

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a testimonial book

The history of Norland in 13 objects: Great War testimonial books

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a Norlander's badge

The history of Norland in 13 objects: the first Norlander speedwell badge

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a black and white photo of Norland Nannies playing with children

The history of Norland in 13 objects: the Norland uniform

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