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CAVELL, Edith Louisa.

Autograph letter signed by the nurse and war heroine, providing a professional reference for a former member of her staff in Belgium.

Brussels: 8 January, 1913 Stock Code: 127702
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An apt example of Cavell's professional duties, written two years before her controversial execution

Autograph letter signed "E. Cavell, Matron", her retained file copy, dating from her time as the director of a nurses' training school in Brussels, just two years before her controversial execution by a German firing squad for treason. In this succinct letter Cavell (1865-1915) provides a reference for one Miss Hardy, affirming that "she has nursed several cases for us to my satisfaction. The doctors and patients were also pleased with her work". This is a particularly apt example of Cavell's professional duties, as the recruitment and administrative care of nurses was her prime focus at the school, which she had joined in 1907. It was the first of its kind in Belgium, and one of the first in Europe, but at the time nursing in Belgium was seen as primarily a role for members of religious orders. Cavell's aim was to convince educated middle-class laywomen to consider it as a viable and respectable career, an objective which she achieved with great distinction.

Her attentions were soon diverted to assisting in the escape of allied soldiers, and she worked with an organisation which provided soldiers with hiding places and false papers. Her efforts led to her arrest on 5 August 1915 and, despite the serious diplomatic efforts made to obtain a stay of execution, she was shot on 12 October. "Initial shock at Cavell's death was quickly succeeded by international protest, and to many she became, overnight, a heroine and martyr She also undertook pioneering work in establishing the clinic and training school, and in shaping the profession of nursing in Belgium and neighbouring countries. But it was the timing of her death, the manner of it, the reaction to it, and the fact that she was a woman and a nurse that secured her lasting reputation as a heroine" (ODNB).

American autograph collector and dealer Thomas F. Madigan considered Cavell's letters to be some of the rarest autographs to acquire (as discussed in his book World Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting, 1930) and they appear very infrequently in commerce; we can trace just one other appearance in the past twenty years, a lot of three letters at Heritage in 2008.

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Octavo (178 x 114 mm). Single leaf, hand written on one side in black ink, addressed from 149 rue de la Culture, the location of Cavell's school and clinic.


Creased from folding as usual, a single short nick to the top edge and top left corner torn obscuring the word "Copy". Overall in very good condition.


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