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  Monica Eileen Baly (1914–1998), by unknown photographer [detail] Monica Eileen Baly (1914–1998), by unknown photographer [detail]
Baly, Monica Eileen (1914–1998), nurse and historian of nursing, was born on 24 May 1914 at 23 Shirley Park Road, Shirley, near Croydon, Surrey, the first of the two children, and the only daughter, of Albert Frank Baly (d. 1953), a clerk with Southern Railways, and Anne (or Annie) Elizabeth Marlow (d. 1961), his wife. Baly was educated at an Anglican convent, St Hilda's School for Girls, in west London, leaving at eighteen with a scholarship to Croydon Art School. She would have liked a university education, but there was insufficient money and she chose nursing as the next best thing. She started her nursing career at Brook Hospital, London, in 1932, training for two years as a fever nurse, and continuing with general nursing at the Middlesex Hospital, London, becoming a registered general nurse in 1937. She followed this with midwifery at the Middlesex and then worked on the staff there for a short time before joining the armed services.

Baly served with the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service from 1942 to 1946, spending three and a half years overseas in the Middle East and Italy. She worked as a theatre sister and was responsible for setting up a burns unit treating severely burnt airmen in Foggia, Italy, for which she was mentioned in dispatches (1944). Her last six months in the services were spent nursing typhoid patients in Cairo.

By 1946 Baly had come to realize that much ill health was caused by social conditions, and decided to train as a health visitor. After a short spell as a health visitor in Surrey she was seconded to the Foreign Office as chief nursing officer for displaced persons in the British zone in Germany. She started a public health programme with a British nurse in each region and persuaded the Foreign Office to allow her to set up a school of nursing in Hanover to train public health nurses. These courses helped to rehabilitate the profession of nursing in Germany after its compromising position during the Nazi years.

On her return to Britain in 1950 Baly joined the staff of the Royal College of Nursing, becoming one of the first area officers; she had responsibility for the south-western region and went to live in Bath, which remained her home for the rest of her life. The National Health Service was still settling down and she had the task of persuading the new hospital management committees that nurses needed better pay and conditions. She also had to convince nurses that they needed a professional organization, and during her twenty-four years with the college she was very successful in recruiting new members. Baly's belief in the professional status of nurses inspired her work and she was chosen to lead some of the college's most successful pay campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When Baly retired from the college in 1974 she started a second career as a writer and historian of nursing. For some time she had been a lecturer and examiner for the diploma in nursing (University of London) and out of these lectures grew her first book, Nursing and Social Change (1973). She published several books on nursing, Professional Responsibility (1975), Nursing (Past-into-Present series, 1977), and A New Approach to District Nursing (1981), as well as completing an Open University degree in history in 1979. She was commissioned by the Nightingale Fund Council to write a history of the council; this became her PhD dissertation (University of London, 1984), and was published as Florence Nightingale and the Nursing Legacy (1986). There she exposed many of the myths which had grown up around Florence Nightingale and the nurses' training school at St Thomas's Hospital, London.

This research was the beginning of Baly's deep interest in Florence Nightingale, and thereafter she was regarded as an expert on Miss Nightingale, whose article she prepared for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. She founded and chaired the history of nursing society at the Royal College of Nursing, pioneering the first journal dedicated to new research in the history of nursing, which was influential in stimulating research at an international level. She continued writing and publishing books and journal articles up to her death, and her last book was published posthumously as A History of Nursing at the Middlesex Hospital (2000). In her will she left £10,000 to establish a scholarship in history of nursing. She was made a fellow of the Royal College of Nursing in 1986.

Baly was a good-looking woman, always elegant, and an accomplished cook. She was secretary of the Royal Crescent Society, Bath, where she lived for more than forty years, and was a guide for the museum at the Royal Crescent. She loved music, opera, and theatre and was a supporter of the Bath Festival and Bath Theatre Royal. She died at her home, 19 Royal Crescent, Bath, on 12 November 1998 and was cremated at Bath on 20 November; a thanksgiving service was held in Bath Abbey. She never married.

Susan McGann


Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh, Monica Baly papers · M. E. Baly, recorded interview, 1995, Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh, T100 · The Guardian (20 Nov 1998) · The Independent (18 Nov 1998) · The Times (20 Nov 1998) · M. Baly, ‘Early recollections of an area officer’, History of Nursing Society Journal, 4/1 (1992–3), 17–22 · b. cert. · personal knowledge (2004) · private information (2004)


Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh, papers




Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh, recorded interview (1995), T100


photograph, c.1970, repro. in The Independent · black and white photographs, Royal College of Nursing Archives, Edinburgh · photograph, News International Syndication, London [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in The Guardian

Wealth at death  

under £200,000—gross; under £100,000—net: probate, 4 Jan 1999, CGPLA Eng. & Wales