When Georgina Fane Pope was a little girl she read about Florence Nightingale, the English nurse who went to Crimea in 1854 to help wounded soldiers.
The story of “The Lady With the Lamp” so inspired the young Prince Edward Islander that the seeds of a dream were planted.
“Georgina said, ‘when I grow up I’m going to become a nurse, go to a foreign country and nurse sick soldiers,’ ” says Katherine Dewar, who is working on a soon-to-be released book, “Called to Serve: Georgina Pope – Canadian Nursing Heroine”, which will tell the story of this P.E.I. woman.
Pope was born in 1862, a time when “genteel women” didn’t go into nursing, Dewar said. But Georgina Fane Pope was a trailblazer and stayed true to her dream. In 1885 she took a boat to New Brunswick and then boarded a train for New York City where she trained as a nurse at Bellevue Hospital.
“After graduating in 1887, she stayed on in the U.S. where she became a leader — one of the nursing pioneers in America,” says Dewar, also the co-curator of “Inspired by Nightingale – Dedicated to God: The Story of Georgina Fane Pope”, an exhibition on display at Eptek Centre in Summerside until Jan. 5.
The exhibition tells how the daughter of Father of Confederation William H. Pope went on to have a distinguished and “groundbreaking” career, establishing innovative nursing techniques in American hospitals. Through photographs and texts, it also tells the story of her exemplary service work overseas caring for wounded British and Canadian soldiers in the Boer War and the First World War.
Like her mentor, Pope’s was a life of firsts.
She was the first Canadian nurse to lead a nursing contingent to a foreign war and to command British nurses in a foreign hospital.
Pope was the first nurse appointed to the Permanent Army Medical Corps (PAMC). She was also the first matron of the PAMC, appointed in 1908.
Pope was the first Canadian nurse to receive the prestigious Royal Red Cross first class.
“This was an award initiated by Queen Victoria to honour Florence Nightingale,” Dewar explained.
The Canadian government also recognized her work. Pope is commemorated as one of the 14 figures at the Valiants Memorial, Confederation Square in Ottawa.
Her portrait is featured on a coin issued by the Royal Canadian Mint and on a plaque fastened by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to the outside wall of the old Armoury Building in Summerside.
And she’s touched the heart of her biographer.
“After writing the book, ‘Those Splended Girls’, I feel I know her so well. I live with her each day,” says Dewar, who approached Eptek Centre two years ago with the idea of doing the exhibition.
Paula Kenny, the site director at the time, thought it was a great idea and arranged to get some external funding. Kenny also became the co-curator of the exhibition.
Working together they managed to get some of the artifacts from the National War Museum in Ottawa.
To Dewar’s delight, Pope’s medals are in the exhibition as is the gold locket that the City of Ottawa gave her when she came back from the Boer War in 1899. There are other surprises as well.
“I was like a kid on Christmas morning when this box of artifacts came in. Now everybody will know about these wonderful things.”