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Photo Credit: Gloria Stephens





This website was created in support of and to represent the historical artifacts of the Victoria General (V.G.) Hospital School of Nursing Archives.


This layout will demonstrate how the evolution of medical advances had a positive impact on gender disparities in relation to the administration of medical instruments, specifically needles and syringes, to patients. By selecting this more inclusive scope and re-telling of history, it allows for a broad perception of the artifacts I am displaying from the past to life in the present, and meets the general audience of health sciences overall.

The Association of Health Sciences

& Museums of Nova Scotia

In 2007, a small group of nurses formed

Nursing History N.S., Interest Group.

Ethel Williams, 1935:
Hollow Needles:
Glass Syringe:
Travelling Nurse:


        "Many nursing associations [have been forced] to focus on nursing's future, not the past"

                                                                                                                   (Katherine McPherson, 1996: 24-5).


However, when focusing on the health sciences medical advancements we must remember the past that shaped its future. 





A hero does not always resemble a person; it can be the invention of a medical instrument, which with its advancements has made it possible to easily administer medication required by those living with a chronic illness, such as Type 1 Diabetes, be alive. However, heroes to me were my loving and supportive parents and their help in my evolution to needles and syringes, as well as living with Type 1 Diabetes.

There are many uses of syringes in the contemporary world of health sciences. Five examples are:





Blood Extract

Blood Extract

Insulin Injection

Insulin Injection

Disposable Syringes

Disposable Syringes

“Instruments [made] of iron; some are to cut as shears, razors and lancets … and some [are for] draw[ing] out diverse things, [such] as tongs and pincers. And[,] some [are required] to know the deepness of sores, [such] as spatulas and searchers; some [are even made] to sew as needles and pipes” (Thomas Morstede, 1446).







"The use of syringes was greatly increased by the introduction of insulin in 1922-23.

In the 1930s 60 percent of all injections were to diabetics" (Bynum, 2011: 115).

1000 BC
Ali Al Mawsili invented the
tubular metallic syringe with hypodermic needle to remove cataracts from patients' eyes (Imran Haq Humayun A. Khatib, 2016: 76).
280 BC
Alexandria: Ctesibus' first mention of a syringe, was used to pull objects out of ears. This Syringe is also known as the 'pus puller'
(Mary & Michael Woods, 2011: 61.)
Ali Al Mawsili

Ali Al Ali Al Mawsil (Photo Credit): Mohammad Hasan Qari, 2016: 1)

(Photo Credit: Mohamad Hasan Qari, 2010)

1600 AD
England: Syphilis being one of the most common diseases, syringes were used to inject mercury in the urethra.Bumstead's version was invented in 1402 (Charles Truax, 18999: 598).
1653 AD
France: To demonstrate his principle on the Law of fluids, Pascal invented a syringe consisting of a piston plunger connected to a sphere with holes, filled with water
(Marvin R. O'Connell, 1997: 28).
100 AD
Rome: Celsus mentions the 'clyster oricularius' or ear syringe mentioned in the De Medicina used for treating ear infections as well as for urological problems (Lawrence Blquez, 2014: 214).
1350 AD
England: John of Arderne, the first 'surgeon' and inventor of the brass syringe commonly used for enemas  (
1844 AD
Dublin, Ireland: Francis Rynd, Irish physician at Dublin's Mental Hospital invents the hollow needle
1853 AD
France/Scotland: Doctors used to have to make an incision in the skin before the needle could be injected, however, in 1853, Dr. Charles Pravaz (France) adapted the first hypodermic needle, and Dr. Alexander Wood (Scotland) made the first hypodermic syringe, that together could pierce the skin adequately
(Roger Bridgman, 2014: 140).



“The two professions joined in consultation regarding the expansion of the role of the nurse that would include tasks previously designated to the physician. Up to this point, nurses did not perform certain tasks such as Blood Pressure readings, Subcutaneous injections, Intravenous injections, Intramuscular injections, the taking of blood specimens, or the removal of sutures. After exchanging views, the physicians recommended that nurses ‘not do these things’" (Trenholm Fisher, 1945: 99).

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

The Halifax MailStar, 01/13/1949 Cochrane

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Photo Credit:

The Halifax MailStar, 03/31/1942

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Photo Credit:

The Halifax MailStar, 03/25/1957 Cochrane

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The Halifax MailStar, 09/19/1941

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Photo Credit:

The Halifax MailStar, 08/27/1955 Crosby

“Nurses were known as  ‘needle bearers,’ agents of discomfort and pain” (Sandelowski, 2000: 103).

Along with the evolution of medical instruments, such as needles and syringes, also came the positive affect they had upon gender disparities in relation to the administration of these devices to patients. Nurses used to only sterilize, prepare, and fill syringes; not administer them to the patient. These artifacts affect female nurses, but they too had an impact on male doctors, for if not the doctors would have never become more open-minded as the advancements of medical technology evolved.

“Florence Nightingale first had to persuade the army physicians that nurses could be helpful to them in their workplaces…[Nurses] depended greatly on the approval of the physicians at its outset, and the doctors had the power to either prove or disprove nursing’s worth…

This power doctors had over nurses permeated nursing’s growth from the early beginnings” (Keddy et al., 1986).

  “Nature did not intend [for nurses] to [always] be accompanied by doctors.

      Women should be instructed in the art of health.”

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, 1858.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
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Until the 1940s nurses were not allowed to administer needles and syringes to patients (K. Miles, 2002: 293-94).












"[When Dr. Carl Abbott was working as a physician] the nurses gave most of the injections, intramuscular and subcutaneous. Now there were some drugs, and [he could not] name them, but there were some drugs that the nurses were [not] allowed to give.  Mainly because the patients sometimes reacted badly; [however,] that over time decreased the number of drugs so [the nurses] became efficient and safe in administering drugs [through syringes]. [A]s a doctor [he] remembers an iron solution that was given intramuscular[ly] and that was supposed to be given by a doctor and the reason is very simple, what you did was you pulled the skin and gave the intramuscular injection, pull the needle out, and the skin went back so it would [not] leak out. [He] would cover it and the dark solution of iron would not stain. The other thing is the nurses were not allowed to give some intravenous drugs through the tubing. [With] intravenous infusion, sometimes you can give the drug through the tubing and sometimes the [nurse] was not allowed to, so the doctor did it" (Dr. Carl Abbott, 2016).


“Changes have been occurring rapidly in all sectors of the health care system in Canada[; however,] most [significantly] in the specialty of surgery” (Gloria Stephens, 1994: 12).


“Technology[,] in certain areas of the Health Care System has greatly affected the employment of the Registered Nurse[,] with changes in categories [such as gender roles and administration of medical instruments like syringes]” (Gloria Stephens, 1992: 7).


“As technology and new techniques advances, it becomes evident that traditional practices should be questioned and this is where nurse[s] can be involved in research” (Gloria Stephen, 1991).


“As nurses we can either accept the challenge to fight for our rightful place in the health care system or continue to perpetuate the current system. When accepting the challenge of change we must be prepared to accept and use new responses and put aside old strategies[, like when nurses were not allowed to administer syringes to patients]” (Gloria Stephens, 1991, 4).

 "[The first syringe I remember using] was glass and it had a metal needle[, which] had to be sterilized for 15-20 minutes in the sterilizing pan. The needles could be used over and over again as long as they didn’t get blunt. They had to [be filed] into a point. [As needles and syringes evolved and became plastic they] were good in that they were disposable. They didn’t have to be sterilized again. So you took blood from a patient and you poured it into a tube and then threw it away. You would throw the syringe away and the needle would go into the [sharps container]. That’s the big advantage. The disadvantage, and I don’t think I know the facts here but I suspect disposable syringes and needles would be more expensive in the long run. In other words, you could buy a dozen metal needles and glass syringes for maybe twenty dollars, [and] you might have to pay quite a bit more for disposable ones that people threw away. The other thing that was better with the plastic syringes [is] that when you opened the package the plunger was in it. Whereas if you chose a glass syringe the plunger would [not] always fit because there would be multiple syringes in the sterilizing pan and they [would get mis-matched and did not] always fit well. The other thing that was helpful [about the evolutionized plastic syringe] was [when] we chose a needle, depending on the size you wanted, it was color-coded. [Something that was not offered when physicians had the glass syringe as their only option]" (Dr. Carl Abbott, 2016).





"[As a student nurse,] in the 1960s, what [she] remembers mostly about [glass syringes] was that they used to come from the central supply sterilized in these wrappers with the barrel seperate from the syringe. At times they did not fit, and these units woulf get mixed up. One of [her] first experiences was when she filled the syringe with narcotic medication and the barrel fell out, [as it was too small]. This caused the medication to be wasted and the patients time [which she felt badly about] because she then would have to fill out the paper work and draw up the narcotics again" (Dr. Kathleen MacMillan, 2016).

"The period [between] 1945 [and] 1967 saw a major transition in the [h]ospital operation. [Being] caught up in the postwar emergence of the modern social service state, the [h]ospital transformed into a highly specialized and technologically sophisticated institution... A more depersonalized hospital environment [emerged, where] the role of the administrator enhanced. ...[During the 1950s and 1960s,] one [could] see the demand for health care workers who took their places on the wards and in many health care services, permitting the expansion of services, the introduction of new technologies, and the reorganization of health care work. The dynamic nature of work in health care was acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Health Services (Hall Commission) in the mid-1960s, when it was acknowledged that 'the physicianof the future [would] need to recognize and work with an ever-increasing number of paramedical and related professional personnel if he is to utilize his special training and education to the best advantage of his patients " (M.S. Hunt, 1920 - Peter Twohig, "An immediate Solution to Our Nurse Shortage": The Reorganization of Nursing Work in Nova Scotia, 1940-1970, 2011:  93 & 139-40).

"The proliferation of highly technological, specialized medical and surgical interventions prompted doctors to relinguish responsibility for certain tasks, such as taking blood pressures and [start] intravenous drips. ...The concept of proletarianization of a centralized workplace, rationalization of the work process, the intensification of the pace of work, and the rigid, hierarchical division of labor of 'assembly-line' and factory production, which some authors believed characterized nursing work in the post-world War II era" (Kathryn McPherson, 1996: 6 & 8).

Photo Credit: Victoria General Hospital, Registered Nurses Association of Nova ScotiaThe Halifax MailStar: June 23, 1984

"Josephine Landry, RN, stands in a Victoria General Hospital waiting room, 1906; [the] spherical object[, known as the Autoclave, (Joan Carter, 2005: 16)] at [the] right was the first and only sterilizer in the building. Sandy Crosby, RN, fills a syringe in the burn unit of the same hospital, 1984."

"Most people probably picture nurses as quietly capable and efficient, garbed in white, bearers of needles, medications, and bedpans ever present and ready to respond to the patients' needs and doctors' orders. [However,] even this picture does not capture the reality [of this occupation]. Nursing began humbly, changed rapidly, and continues to change in ways that will ensure nurses a more active, prominent role in the health care system."


"Some members of the Registered Nurses Association of Nova Scotia (RNANS) think the amendments [to the Canada's Health Act] off an opportunity to reclaim the more independent and community-oriented roles of yesterday. Other members insist the past is best forgotten because, traditionally, nurses were underpaid, unappreciated, and overworked; [however,] they agree that the amendments may give nurses a more central, responsible, and independent role within the medical community, one they have not enjoyed to date."


"Nurses like Mrs. Clara Buffet were taught to accept authority[.] This was the law, and it was not to be changed."


"If the physician were absent [Miss Irene Melish, who enrolled in the Victoria General Hospital in 1929] was expected to carry out his duties, such as administering anaesthetics, starting intravenous, and delivering babies. [As superintendent or head nurse] she purchased drugs, filled in for absent staff members, [she] sometimes cooked, acted as pharmacist and administrator [24 hours a day]."


"As medicine became more complicated, specialized, and centralized, more and more nurses moved out of communities and into the hospitals. The move has meant more economic stability for nurses. It has also increased the professionalism of nursing, giving it a more scientific base, and allowing nurses access to higher and everchanging technology."


"There is something to the idea of nurses looking to the past to help shape the future" (Lynn Davies, 1984).






   Credit: [First Column] The Victoria General Hospital School of Nursing Alumni/Archives

                                & [Second Column] The Abbey Lane Medical Archives






What better way to

"Connect the Past to the Future"

then to incorporate these artifacts in an inclusive manner that represents "Honoring the Past"

for both patients and

health science professionals alike.


"Beginnings Of The Victoria General Hospital"
Photo Credit:  The Halifax MailStar, Year Unknown

Together, the Victoria General Nursing Archives and the Medical Archives have an abundance of artifacts including an array of medical instruments, such as the examples of needles and syringes I have selected to provide on this website, for your viewing pleasure.

For more information on Nursing History please be sure to visit: and



For additional comments please contact the President, Mrs. Gloria Stephens at:


Thank you,

for viewing this historical representation of

The Victoria General School of Nursing Archives Artifact Evolution.

Appreciation goes to the following individuals for their contributions to this project:

Dr. Carl Abbott

Dr. Kathleen MacMillan

Dr. Barbara Keddy

Mrs. Gloria Stephens

Dr. Nicole Neatby

Dr. Peter Twohig


Thanks to my loving and supportive family, if not for Tom, who is incredibly helpful with my Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and Priya, our beautiful husky who can sniff out my lows, I would have never evolved with the medical advances I now use to treat my T1D.

As I have proudly advanced to using the Animas Insulin Pump & Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor to control my blood sugars and live a healthy life as a T1D.

 Researcher & Website Designer: 

Saint Mary's University ACST Graduate Student

Proud Type 1 Diabetic to have been Affected Positively by the Evolution of Needles & Syringes

    Tara Lyle-Tanner

"[Type 1] Diabetes turned out to be a gift. It gave me strength and toughness

because I [have] to face reality no matter how uncomfortable or painful it [May be]"

(Halle Berry, 2009).

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