Angélique Lucille Pringle: Florence Nightingale’s favourite disciple

Alastair is an Edinburgh-born Hawick author who lives in Glasgow with his partner Jaime-Lynn and son Alexander. He has extensive first-hand experience of Scotland’s care services, having been fostered from an early age through local authority and later Barnardo’s placements, and sits on the Discovery group of the Scottish Care Review.

Educated in Fife and Glasgow, he formed a successful retail career before settling into new roles as a social media consultant, journalist, and fostering panel member with Barnardo’s and FCA Scotland. In his spare time he is Honorary Secretary of Hawick Archaeological Society, and runs an ever-expanding social media empire in Hawick and Glasgow.

Follow Alastair on Twitter @officialAliRed

Florence Nightingale will be familiar to many as a Victorian heroine and the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence while training and managing nurses during the Crimean War, where her team tended to wounded soldiers and implemented simple hygiene methods like hand-washing (at a time when most people believed that infections were caused by foul odours). She frequently sent letters to The Times to highlight the poor quality of care for wounded soldiers, overworked medical staff, and short supply of medicines. This public humiliation prompted the British Government to commission Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles. Florence became an almost mythical icon of Victorian culture after gaining the nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ from a report of her regular night rounds published in The Times. In 1860, she laid the foundations of professional nursing with the establishment of a school at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.

One of the school’s most influential graduates was Angélique Lucille Pringle from Hawick, widely-considered to be Florence’s favourite disciple. Angélique was born in the grey auld toon on January 29, 1846, to Thomas Kedie Pringle and Lucilla Kennedy, sister of William Norman Kennedy and half-sister of Sandbed bookseller James Damone Kennedy. Thomas worked as a grocer at Market Place, a name given to the open area around Tower Knowe and Drumlanrig Bridge where the local markets were then held. A typically large Victorian family, Angélique grew up with seven siblings including a younger sister, Elizabeth Hamar Pringle, who trained at St Thomas’s nursing school and later served as Matron for 25 years in a convalescent home for “incurables” at Lisburn, near Belfast.

Aged 17 she went to India as a hostess to her uncle, who was Governor of Calcutta (no name is given, sadly). Little else is mentioned of her young adult life abroad though she once reportedly crossed the Sahara desert by camel! Angélique returned to Britain in 1868 to train as a nurse at Surrey Gardens and later St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, where she was described as an “outstanding probationer.” Her passion, drive and ability impressed the nursing staff there so much that she earned the nickname ‘Pearl’. Her assistant Rachel Williams was also very tall and regal by comparison, earning Angélique the further sobriquet ‘Little Sister’.

AL Pringle Lothian Health Services Archive
Credit: Lothian Health Services Archive; Florence Nightingale Museum; Hawick Word Book (2017 ed.), Professor Douglas Scott.

Angélique’s first real encounter with Florence Nightingale came during an interview in 1871, and she soon became the most senior and respected of Nightingale’s disciples (as they were known). However, despite her nursing prowess, Angélique was a quiet person and lacked authority – qualities which were essential for any budding Matron. Nightingale encouraged her to come out of her shell and wield more authority on the wards. Protégées from the nurse training school went on to disseminate modern methods at other hospitals across the world, and Angélique was no different, moving to a post at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1872. The timing was perfect – two of her sisters, Janet and Maggie, were both unmarried at that point and agreed to live together in the city.

Times were also rapidly changing at the Royal. Four years earlier, Sir Joseph Lister had been appointed as Professor of Surgery. He successfully introduced antiseptics and narcotics, attracting patients from higher social classes to the hospital. The managers felt the existing nurses were lacking both medical knowledge and “appropriate behaviours,” so appointed Deputy Surgeon-General Charles Hamilton Fasson as Medical Superintendent. He in turn recruited a group of seventeen trained Nightingale nurses from St. Thomas’s Hospital – of which Angélique was the most regarded. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary became a sister institution of St Thomas’s and the two hospitals exchanged nursing services. Alongside Frances E. Spencer, the pair were the first two fully-trained Matrons at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Significant changes came with the introduction of the ‘New System’ in 1873. That year Angélique and the hospital’s first Matron, Elizabeth Barclay, instigated a system of nursing where the nurses were under the control of the Lady Superintendent instead of individual ward doctors. They also introduced regimented training for nurses, who after one year of probation, were admitted to a Register Book. The success of these changes led directly to the establishment of Scotland’s first School of Nursing. Up to the move to the new buildings at Little France, 102 probationers had been entered into the Royal’s Registry Book. Angélique was promoted to Matron when it became clear that Barclay was not up to the task. Barclay called the Infirmary a “lawless place” and found the doctors to be unsupportive.

Angélique was able to transform nurse training at the Infirmary in her fourteen years as Matron. She encouraged lectures by doctors and surgeons, including Joseph Bell whose Notes on Surgery for Nurses became a standard text, alongside more systematic ward instruction. Nurses were regularly called upon to participate in activities for the spiritual wellbeing of patients and staff. When the hospital moved to Lauriston Place in 1879, Angélique and her staff, along with Miss Forsyth the last Matron, contributed £85 3s, 3d to present an organ to the Chapel. Nurses also performed an annual concert and sang carols to patients on Christmas morning. A piano was placed between wards and the nurses sang around several different locations so that all the patients could hear.
Nightingale regularly sent visiting Europeans to Edinburgh to see for themselves the improvements made during Angélique’s tenure. On applying (unsuccessfully) for a post at St. Bartholemew’s in 1881, she was also given a glowing reference by Nightingale:

“I have laboured for the past seven years to keep her at Edinburgh. It has been almost by main force…Miss Pringle is the only woman I know who would have any chance of bringing St. Bartholemew’s into proper nursing order.”

On the ill health of Sarah Wardroper, Matron of St Thomas’s Hospital, Nightingale requested that ‘Little Sister’ return to London in 1887. A short spell followed as Matron till 1890, when Angélique resigned after controversially converting to Catholicism (no doubt influenced by her French Roman Catholic granny). Nightingale was particularly concerned that her nurses should not be caught up in Protestant fears about the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act in England. Fear of Catholicism meant that the number of Catholics admitted to the Nightingale School of Nursing was deliberately limited, with the result that Nightingale Lady Superintendents, Matrons and Sisters were all Protestants.
Afterwards Angélique travelled the world advising on nursing issues. Despite her forced resignation, she remained a close personal friend and devotee of Florence Nightingale. Numerous letters shared between the two are kept in the British Museum. In 1909, the pair met for the last time at Nightingale’s home in London. After her death in August 1910, her executors gathered together papers letters from her many admirers to assist Sir Edward Cook in writing a biography. Unfortunately, Angélique destroyed much of their correspondence bar a few letters and one greeting card, now in the care of the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. Angélique Lucille Pringle, Scotland’s nursing pioneer, died in 1920 and is commemorated with a simple brass tablet in the chapel of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.


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