Spring/printemps 2003

Borrowed Halos: Canadian Teachers as Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurses during the Great War

Linda J. Quiney
Hannah Post-Doctoral Fellow, Department of History, University of Ottawa
Published May 1, 2003
How to Cite
Quiney, Linda J. 2003. “Borrowed Halos: Canadian Teachers As Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurses During the Great War”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 15 (1), 79-99. https://historicalstudiesineducation.ca/hse/index.php/edu_hse-rhe/article/view/475.


Teaching and nursing were frequent career choices for unmarried, middle-class women in the Great War era, but only nurses were eligible for active service in Canadian military hospitals overseas. Teachers were expected to remain at home, volunteering for patriotic projects like other women. This role proved too passive for some, who relinquished their careers to become, temporarily, Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses (VADs); many served in British military hospitals overseas. The history of this unique group offers new insights into societal expectations for Canadian women’s professional work in the early twentieth century. The transformation of teachers into nurses during the crisis of war was legitimized by the substitution of gender and class attributes for specialized training, allowing women teachers the otherwise unattainable opportunity for active service abroad. Their experience raises important issues regarding the meaning of “professional identity” in traditional women’s occupations, and professional development later in the century.