Eva Luckes: Maker of Matrons

Published by Administrator on

In September 2017, I am starting PhD research at the University of Manchester:

Eva Luckes, Maker of Matrons: Was Luckes a maker of matrons and did she socially engineer a generation of hospital matrons?

At the UKAHN Colloquium in Huddersfield, supported by a University of Huddersfield Centre for Health Histories bursary, I had the opportunity to present my early ideas and get support and feedback to help shape my research.

Eva Luckes was an influential matron of The London Hospital, Whitechapel from 1880-1919. Following Luckes’s funeral she was described in the nursing press as a ‘maker of matrons’1. Luckes ran The London Hospital’s nursing department during a significant period of socio-economic change, which spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her tenure followed the period of the ‘Nightingale reforms’ of nurse training. Luckes corresponded regularly with Florence Nightingale who referred to her as a ‘matron of matrons’2.

The research will examine the influences which contributed to her success as a maker of matrons. It will examine a variety of primary and secondary sources to determine the social classes of Luckes’s matrons and develop an understanding of the extent to which she engineered the social class of a generation of matrons.

I have started identifying Luckes’s matrons from a variety of sources, including:

Luckes’s Letters to her Nurses, 1894-1916.
The London Hospital Registers of Sisters and Nurses, 1880-1919.
Historical nursing press.

In conjunction with The London Hospital probationer’s records, decennial censuses and parish records are enabling identification of the social class of some of the matron’s. I presented at the UKAHN 2017 pre-colloquium seminar because I wanted more experience at presenting, and to get advice about further sources to examine in my hunt for Eva Luckes’s matrons. My presentation included a few appropriate pictures: of Luckes, nurses at The London Hospital, and four of these matrons. The presentation centred around two discussion points, which are pivotal to this research: How can Luckes’s ‘matrons’ be identified? What were their names, ages and promotions? What was their father’s/ next of kin’s occupation? To date over 440 matrons have been identified, but because of ‘gaps’ in record creation and record keeping there could be many more. For example, the nursing press did not commence publication until 1888, and Luckes’s original Supplementary Registers (1889-1919) were destroyed, the data only surviving from 1894-1916 in her Letters to her Nurses. To date the social class of over 40 matrons has been researched, and the primary sources used to establish the parental/next of kin’s social class were outlined along with problems that the researcher has met.

Attendees offered excellent suggestions about other sources that could be consulted for information, such as the use of obituaries, and other sources of contemporary newspapers. I was given further ‘food for thought’ with the suggestion that I could create a database, in which to publicly share my research. It was an excellent forum in which to gain confidence in presenting, and receive advice from many very experienced nursing historians and researchers. I would highly recommend presenting research at the seminar. The colloquium itself was very enjoyable with excellent speakers. It was most enjoyable and reassuring that I was on the right track with my initial research into Eva Luckes as a maker of matrons.


‘The last of the Pioneers’, The Nursing Mirror and Midwives’ Journal, Vol.XXVIII, No.726, Saturday 22 February 1919, p.313.
Letter from Florence Nightingale to Eva Luckes, Nightingale Papers, Vol. CXLIV, Additional Manuscript 47,746, British Library cited in: A.E. Clark-Kennedy, The London, A study in the Voluntary Hospital System, Volume Two, 1840-1948, London, 1963, p.112


Sarah Rogers is a PhD student at the University of Manchester

Image @ 1892 © Wellcome Library, London, Wellcome Images