Ask anyone to name one of the most famous nurses of yesteryear, and they are more likely than not to reply: “Florence Nightingale”.
They wouldn’t be wrong. Nightingale’s contribution to her industry was nothing short of remarkable, and she rightly wrote herself into folklore many, many moons ago.
However, another 19th Century nurse who was going about her business in a similarly impressive way is perhaps not quite a household name across the country, albeit she is certainly very well known in some regions.
Agnes Jones, after whom Homes for Students’ property Agnes Jones House in Liverpool is named, was a highly-influential figure in the world of medicine back then and, despite not achieving the level of retrospective fame that Nightingale enjoys, she was labelled a genius at the time . . . by none other than Nightingale herself!
Jones was Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary’s first ever trained Nursing Superintendent in the mid-1800s. She became renowned for her being a workaholic, running herself into the ground if it meant making the sick and vulnerable better. She succumbed to Typhus Fever at the age of 35 in 1868, three years after agreeing to lead in the first trial of nursing at the infirmary.
The great Nightingale had described Jones as one of “the best pupils” during her training days in the early 1860s. By the time of Jones’ death, she had made a lasting impression on Nightingale, who described her as: “A woman attractive and rich and young and witty; yet a veiled and silent woman, distinguished by no other genius than the divine genius.”
Perhaps the most pertinent point to make about Jones’ relative lack of posthumous stardom compared to Nightingale in today’s world is that it would not bother her in the slightest. She was dedicated to God and her patients. The prospect of becoming some sort of celebrity would, one imagines, have simply been viewed as an unwelcome distraction from the more important task at hand – saving lives.
It is only right that the city of Liverpool has remembered her so fondly, with Agnes Jones House, a statue in the Cathedral Oratory and a window in the Anglican Cathedral, yet even this regional appreciation would likely have left Agnes perplexed and embarrassed in equal measure.
Now buried in her birthplace, Ireland, she can rest safe in the knowledge that in her short life she saved and transformed the lives of those who needed her the most.