A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



(a) Purpose of inquiry

This inquiry was carried out for Campaigns Division of the Ministry of Information.

At present there is a serious shortage of nurses, and information as to why girls and young women were not entering the nursing profession in greater numbers was required to assist the publicity campaign appealing for volunteers.

The main objects of the inquiry were as follows:

  1. (i) To obtain information about the attitudes of girls and young women towards nursing as a profession, and to find out what were the principal resistances to entering the profession, and the relative importance of these resistances.

  2. (ii) To find out the extent of public knowledge about nurses’ working conditions, and particularly to find out to what extent potential recruits were aware of the recent improvements in conditions resulting from the adoption of some of the recommendations made by the Rushcliffe Report.

  3. (iii) To measure the impact on potential recruits of the publicity so far put out by Campaigns Division.

In addition to these main objects it was required to find out something about the attitudes of girls and young women towards specialising in particular branches of nursing; to what extent nursing was looked upon as only a war job and to what extent as a career; and whether it was known what careers other than hospital nursing were open to trained nurses.

Information was also required as to the attitudes of parents towards their daughters’ taking up nursing, and whether the fact that hospital training could not be commenced until the age of 17 or 18 was reached was presenting any difficulty to schoolgirls who wished to enter the profession.

A supplementary inquiry has been carried out amongst trainee nurses to study the attitudes of girls who have recently taken up nursing and their motives for doing so. The results of this inquiry will be available later.


(b) Method

The main part of the inquiry was carried out by interviewing samples of potential recruits with a questionnaire.

The questionnaire is given in full on page 33 and it will be seen that the questions aimed at discovering both attitudes towards nursing as a profession and knowledge of nurses’ working conditions. The last part of the questionnaire deals with publicity.

In addition to this, a small sample of mothers of potential recruits was interviewed with a view to finding out to what extent, if at all, parents’ influence acted as a deterrent. The results of this subsidiary inquiry are given in Appendix (i).

The views of some headmistresses of secondary schools were collected by means of open interviews, and a short report on these is given in Appendix (ii).

As the universe of potential recruits is not know it was necessary to limit the population sample in certain arbitrary ways.

It was decided in consultation with Campaigns Division to limit the population to single women between the ages of 16 and 34 (inclusive), as it is mainly from this group that trainees are accepted.

Up to the present, secondary schools have formed one of the principal sources from which trainees have been drawn, and in view of this it was decided to take two samples, one of working women and one of schoolgirls. The two samples were asked the same questions, and the schoolgirls were asked a few additional question about the gap between school-leaving age and the age of entering a hospital tor training (Appendix (iii)).

Altogether 1,967 working woman and 354 schoolgirls were interviewed.

As the distribution by region of single women in the age group concerned was not known, it was decided to select informants from each region in the same proportions as those in which the whole civilian population is distributed in the regions.

Similarly in so far as occupation is concerned, informants were selected in five broad occupation groups approximately in the proportions in which the whole female working population is distributed in these groups.

It should be noted that Scotland had to be excluded from the sample of schoolgirls owing to summer holidays beginning earlier here than in England and Wales.

Also, in the analysis of results by education for working women, Scotland is excluded as owing to the different system, the same classification as for England and Wales was not possible.

Full details of the samples are given on page 30.

(c) Summary



1. 37% working women and 34% secondary schoolgirls were on the whole favourable towards nursing. 28% working women and 41% secondary schoolgirls were unfavourable.

2. 29% working women had at one time tried to become nurses. Of those 26% had not done so for economic reasons, e.g. they i.ere too young at the time and needed to have a job right away, A further 15% did not want to leave home, and 26% had changed their minds about wanting to nurse.

36% of schoolgirls had at one time wanted to become nurses, and about a quarter of these thought that they would do so. The rest had decided subsequently on other careers.

3. 16% of working women and 26% of schoolgirls were thinking of volunteering for nursing when called up. A further 9% and 8% of the two groups respectively were doubtful as to whether they would volunteer for nursing.

4. The majority of informants who had considered nursing had not thought about the subject of specialisation. However, 21% of working women thought they would like children’s nursing.

5. The most powerful resistances to taking up nursing are:-

(a) long hours of work and lack of leisure (30% working women, 36% schoolgirls);

(b) poor pay (22% working women, 31% schoolgirls);

(c) it is “hard” work or a “hard” life (15% working women, 29% schoolgirls);

and (d) the necessity of seeing unpleasant sights, blood etc. (14% working women, and 8% schoolgirls);

6. The most powerful attractions of nursing as a career are:

(a) it is worth while work and of service to the community (27% working women, 46% schoolgirls),

(b) the knowledge gained in training is useful in other spheres of life (12% working women, 15% schoolgirls);

(c) the work is interesting and varied, (9% working women, 15% schoolgirls);

(d) it is “regular” work and a “career” (8% working women, 5% schoolgirls).

7. Distributive and miscellaneous workers show rather more favourable attitudes than other occupation groups. Factory workers (particularly non-war workers) consistently show higher proportions answering “don’t know” which suggests that fewer in these groups now think of nursing as a possibility for themselves.

8. Better educated women, clerks and secondary schoolgirls, are more critical of the conditions than other groups, particularly of the pay and the fact that the work and life is “hard”.



1. It is clear that considerable proportions of those eligible to take up nursing are not aware of the improvements in nurses’ working conditions resulting from the Rushcliffe Report.

55% working women and 33% secondary schoolgirls had not heard of the increased rate of pay.

67% working women and 54% secondary schoolgirls had not heard of the reduction in working hours.

2. In answer to an unprompted general question asking informants whether they thought nurses’ working conditions had improved in the last few years, 54% working women and 65% schoolgirls said that they had improved. However, 29% of the working women and 19% of the, schoolgirls who thought conditions better were unable to mention any particular improvement. 27% of those who mentioned improvements thought that they were inadequate.

3. Secondary schoolgirls, clerical workers and those who had received more than elementary education were more frequently aware of improvements than were other groups. (These groups were also more critical of conditions, see Section II).

Among working women the older groups were rather more frequently aware of improvements them the younger groups.

4. A high proportion of those eligible for nursing could not say what standard of education was necessary to enter the profession.

34% working women and 70% of schoolgirls thought that a higher standard was needed than is in fact the case.

It is possible that substantial proportions of those with only elementary education do not think of nursing as a possible career for themselves because they think their education is inadequate.

5. 53% of working women and 26% of schoolgirls could not think of any careers other than hospital nursing, that were open to fully trained nurses.

Private nursing, district nursing, children’s nursing, nursing in child welfare clinics and factory nurse were mentioned in this order of frequency by those who knew of occupations open to trained nurses.



Posters had been seen by 70% of the working women and 79% of the schoolgirls.

They were more frequently noticed by the younger groups than by the older groups.

25% of the working women and 17% of the schoolgirls who had noticed the posters were unable to describe any particular poster, and further small proportions had confused them with such posters as those put out by the Red Cross and other organisations.


Advertisements in newspapers had been seen by 63% of the working women and 76% of the secondary schoolgirls.

Clerical and distributive workers had more frequently seen these advertisements than had other occupation groups.

A higher proportion of those who had had more than elementary education than of those who had had elementary education only had noticed these advertisements.

26% of the working women and 20% of the schoolgirls who had seen the advertisements were unable to describe any particular advertisement and further small proportions gave incorrect answers.


21% of the working women and 25% of the secondary schoolgirls had heard wireless talks about nursing.

Other Sources

The most frequently mentioned source of information, other than those above, were friends and relatives in the nursing or medical professions.



The results of the inquiry into mothers’ attitudes towards their daughters taking up nursing must be regarded as inconclusive.

However, it is clear that the majority of mothers with daughters wishing to take up nursing would not stand in their way.

Mothers of daughters who wished to nurse in some cases said they would object to their daughters’ specialising in certain branches of nursing (T.B. 37%, Fever 22%, Mental 29%). 26% of mothers with daughters wishing to nurse would like their daughters to specialise in children’s nursing.

The attitudes of mothers towards nursing are no less favourable than those of working women, and they are less critical of the conditions than are schoolgirls.

Mothers showed rather less knowledge of nurses’ conditions than did working women or schoolgirls.

(d) Conclusions

It would seem from these results that there are plenty of young women who would be willing to take up nursing if certain obstacles were removed and certain facts brought to their notice.

The main deterrents are the relatively long working hours and poor wages of nurses, and could nurses’ working conditions in these respects be further improved, so that they compared more favourably with conditions in other occupations, an increase in recruitment to nursing might be expected.

A further difficulty is the gap between school-leaving age and the age at which it is possible to become a nurse. This is particularly difficult for those in the lower economic groups which form the majority of the population.

It would perhaps be fruitful to direct publicity particularly towards some groups. Distributive workers and workers in those occupations classified as miscellaneous show a rather more favourable attitude than other groups and might therefore be drawn in more easily. (For groups included in miscellaneous, see Sample page 37.)

Also, since girls with elementary education only, factory workers and younger women are rather less critical of the working conditions than are other groups, it might be worthwhile to direct publicity particularly towards these groups.

The fact that girls with no further education can be accepted as nurses, and that it is not necessary to have passed any examinations or reached a particularly high standard of education to become a nurse, should also be stressed.

There are no important differences in attitude shown in different regions or as between urban and rural areas.

Parents do not seen to act as a deterrent and probably it would not be particularly useful to direct publicity towards parents.

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