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Stewart, Isla

Words are inadequate to convey the irreparable loss which has befallen the nursing world on the passing, on Sunday last, of Miss Isla Stewart, Matron and Superintendent of Nursing at St Bartholomew's Hospital. As head of a great training school for nurses, she discharged the duties of her office in a way that brought to it the utmost distinction; in public life she has stood for all that is best, noblest and bravest; to her friends she was a most true, loyal and generous comrade.

With the shadow of her loss heavy upon us, it is, at the present, of her public career that we wish to speak - of that part of her life which belongs to the profession of which she was so distinguished a member and served with such unselfish loyalty. Of Highland descent, Miss Stewart entered upon her life's work at St Thomas's in 1879, and in 1887 was appointed to the position of Matron of St Bartholomew's Hospital, in which position, she has accomplished her great work for the profession she loved. Isla Stewart's claim to greatness lies in this: that she used her high position for no selfish ends, but threw the whole weight of her influence into furthering the welfare of nursing, whether or not the line of action she felt impelled to take seemed for the moment prejudicial to her personal Interests.

She held higher than any personal consideration her public duty, and the fulfilment of the obligations her which her position imposed upon her. A lover of peace she has lived through the troublous times which so often befall a profession during its evolution, and only in the future can the nursing profession fully estimate its great debt to her for her firm stand for vital principles. For herself she could gain no higher position, no greater honour, but with keen insight, and rare unselfishness, she entered the arena of public controversy to further the organisation of nursing for the benefit of the sick, and in order that trained nurses whose work she estimated so highly might have legal recognition as members of an honourable profession. For her work in this profession her work is honoured today throughout the nursing world.

Her end was as she would have wished. At work until Thursday of last week, she left that day for Chilworh for a short rest. On Saturday she became acutely ill and passed away on Sunday last. A great patriot, Miss Stewart was a member of the Nursing Board of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and Principal Matron of No 1 (City of London) Hospital of the Territorial Force Nursing Service; a great public servant she was President of the Matron's Council of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Society for the State Registration of Trained of Nurses, Hon, President of the League of St Bartholomew's Hospital Nurses, a Foundation Member of the International Council of Nurses, an Hon. Member of the National Council of Nurses, the Irish Nurses' Association, the German Nurses' Association and the American Federation of Nurses, while the Assistance Publique of Paris recognised her great services to nursing by conferring on her a special medal.

Her body was brought from Chilworth to the Mortuary Chapel of St Bartholomew's Hospital and taken thence to Moffat, N.B. where she will be laid to rest on Thursday March 10th at 2 o'clock, and at 3 o'clock there will be a Memorial Service at St Bartholomew's the Great, West Smithfield, E.C.


Registration number5
First name(s)Isla

St Bartholomew's Hospital, E.C.

Date of registration7 March 1890

St Thomas's Hospital



Personal details

Date of birthAugust, 1856
Place of birthMoffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
Family details

Father - John Hope Johnstone Stewart, soldier, journalist, Fellow of the Scottish Society of Antiquities
The family were Stewarts of Appin, a west highland branch of the Clan Stewart
One sister was called Janet

Date of deathMarch 6 1910
Place of deathChilworth, Surrey (Mrs Bedford Fenwick was with her)
Additional personal details

Sisters sent to school abroad, but she was educated at home by a governess under the supervision of her aunt
Family spent the summers on an island on the west coast of Argyle
She had red hair

Professional details

Work experience

Nightingale Probationer, St Thomas's under Mrs Wardroper (1879)
9 months later, Sister in the Alexandra Ward, a surgical ward of 20 beds (1879 - 85)
Invited by Sir Edmund Hay Currie, Chairman, Metropolitan Asylum Board to manage the emergency smallpox camp, Darenth, Kent (1,000 patients and several hundred nurses - men and women) which she did for 6 months (1885 - 86)
Eastern Fever Hospital, Homerton, Matron, 1886 - 87
In 1887, she wrote to her mother that one of the biggest appointments in the nursing world was vacant and that she was going to "have a try for it"
.St Bartholomew's, Matron, (1887 until her death on 6 March 1910)

Professional activities

1894, founded Matrons Council - member and President
President, League of St Bartholomew's Nurses, 1899
Set up International Council of Nurses - member of Provisional Committee, 1899 and Councillor 1900
Invited guest at International Council of Nurses, Buffalo, USA, 1901 - presented paper on 'Hospital Administration in Great Britain'
Author, with Dr Herbert Cuff, of "Practical Nursing", 1899
Contributed to "Nursing Record". "Uniform Curriculum of Education for Nurses" and "The Training School 1896"
The Case for Nurses, 'Nineteenth Century and After', May 1902 "The Registration of Nurses", ibid May 1904.
With Wilhelmina Mollett, backed Mrs Bedford Fenwick's demand for Government recognition of nursing as a profession, with a state examination. She also wanted nurses to sit on the examining board of Council. She was an organising matron in the foundation of the Territorial Force Nursing Service and took a keen interest in the selection of the nursing staff of No. 1 (City of London) General Hospital which was supplied entirely by certificated nurses of St Bartholomew's


Register of Trained Nurses 1892
1909 Nursing Directory
"A Short History of Nursing"
Lavinia L Dock & Isabel Maitland Stewart - Isla Stewart's photo opp. P.181. Isla Stewart Oration BJN, 2 Dec 1911
Various BJNs
"A General History of Nursing" - L.R. Seymour

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