A Nurse's Autograph Book



A nurse's autograph book, from an anonymous source, which includes the above cartoon of a nurse being frightened by one of her patients, an Arab man. The caption reads:
Little Nurse Muffet
Sat on her tuffet
Right in the dead of night
An Arab so funny
Saying where is my money?
Came and gave Nurse Muffet a fright.


Like the nurse Miss Burton, the above cartoon comes from an autograph book kept by a nurse at an English hospital during the First World War. Rather than the sentimental platitudes of the poem written by the West Indian man, the cartoon is designed to make the addressee laugh. The cartoon, showing an Arab patient frightening his white nurse in the middle of the night, plays on racialised discourse about non-white men, specifically Arab men. Not only does the man’s blackness intimidate the nurse, but it enables him to sneak up on her during the night. The Arab man is also characterised as being mercenary and greedy, looking for his money. Drawn by a fellow patient, presumably a white soldier, the cartoon reflects how, even within the closed confines of the hospital in which the troops encountered each other, racist prejudices and discourses prevailed.
Equally, the cartoon prevents any suggestion of intimate relations between the nurse and her non-white patients. Nurses during the First World War faced the potential transgressions of boundaries of ethnicity and race, as their work created physical intimacy with men and as they moved amongst troops of colour. To maintain the degree of devotional care that was expected from nurses while at the same time ensuring no transgression of racial structures and hierarchies, particularly through miscegenation, was a further expectation of the nursing character during the First World War. By expressing her obvious shock at the patient’s ‘otherness’, the lack of relationship between the two is emphasised.