In 1914, when war was about to engulf Europe, a young parlour maid in domestic service applied to become a probationer nurse at the York Union Workhouse on Huntingdon Road.
Nellie Hewitt (1892- 1943) was born in Sheffield and the 1911 census shows that she was a patient in York County Hospital at the age of 18. She had been working as a maid for two well-known families. From the age of 16 she worked for Seebohm and Lydia Rowntree at The Homestead, and later for Oscar and Isabella Rowntree in Brandsby.
Becoming a nurse would have been an opportunity for Nellie to improve herself and she might have been influenced by her stay in hospital. The information about her application to the Workhouse Infirmary can be found in the York Poor Law Union Records available in York Explore Archives.
Nellie was given references by both Rowntree families and she began work on 27 July 1914. The Victorian Workhouse was a major employer and trainer of nurses. The Infirmary was one of the few places where the poor could get decent healthcare.
Nellie seems to have had a long and fulfilling career; The Nursing Register of 1925 shows that Nellie was living at 16 The Groves, Grove Place and in 1934 Nellie was still working as a nurse and living in St Maurice’s Place off Lord Mayor’s Walk.
Nellie died in 1943 at the age of 51 at a Sanatorium in Suffolk. It is unclear whether she was a patient there, or working as a Nurse. She is buried in York Cemetery with her father.
The careers of women such as Nellie Hewitt show that the position of women was changing and rather than spend their entire life in domestic service opportunities were open to some in nursing.
Article by Stephen Lewis in York Press, 25 November 2017.
Poor Law Records, York Explore Archives