“All in the End is Harvest.” A Researcher’s Encounter with the Dame Cicely Saunders Collection

Joyce-Elena Ní Ghiobúin graduated from Trinity College, University of Dublin, with an MPhil in Reconciliation Studies in 2012. Since then she has been researching denominational aspects of British-Irish nursing history in the late 19th and 20th centuries and may be contacted at nighiobj@tcd.ie.

Writing to a friend in 1960, Dr Cicely Saunders commented on the increased crisscross of letters, “We’re going to need an archivist someday to make sense of this!” [1]

That anticipation crossed my mind when first confronted with a selection of files at the King’s College London Archives. I was amazed by Dr Saunders’ eye for detail and her foresight in creating records of so many encounters – she must have had future generations in mind!

The documents I consulted were filed thematically, thereby often dating back to a specific period in her life. Yet two core interests spanned the years from her first involvement in hospice care in the late 1940s up until her death in 2005: her restless initiative in expanding her own medical awareness, and a preoccupation with the spiritual aspect in care provision.

These are encapsulated in the words of a patient who served as the founding narrative of the hospice: “I only want what is in your mind and in your heart”. [2] Saunders invested herself in caring for patients in the 1940s, saying “we had so often nothing to offer but ourselves”. [3] Because of this, her mentor Dr Barrett urged her to read medicine if she wanted to change end-of-life care because, in his words, “It’s the doctors who desert the dying”. [4]

p 14 vol 72 no 4 1974 FINAL

Figure 1. Cartoon, St Thomas’s Gazette, vol. 72 no.4 (1974), 14.

The material at King’s College London Archives provides a trail of primary documents beginning from the point at which Cicely Saunders decided to follow that advice. Among the papers placed in my hands as a researcher were the drafts of her M.D. thesis examining pain control among terminal cancer patients, which was a novel direction for research in the mid-1950’s as most doctors focused on curative care problems. The material includes her handwritten calculations and brainstorming exercises, interspersed with letters from her supervisor on how she might rearrange her thesis chapters to best effect. Two of Saunders’ letters are addressed to a professor of veterinary science who had developed tranquilizers for rhinoceros in Uganda using a mixture of morphine derivatives: she wrote to him in 1964 for further insight into analgesics and their tested effects. Still more files contain cuttings from medical journals on the most up-to-date pain control debates [Fig. 1]. Such early investigative thrusts – St Christopher’s would not open until 1967 – attest to Saunders’ resolve to base future hospice work on the best medical and ethical practice. She later affirmed that St Christopher’s was neither the first nor “the model” hospice, but an example of how up-to-date research might be conducted alongside intuitive patient attention in the same care-giving space.

Figure 2. Sketched on reverse of “St. Christopher’s Hospice: First Newsletter” (June 1964), draft. Saunders collected and encouraged the use of poetry for articulating the complex experience of giving and recieving palliative care. In this sketch, the handwritten text reads, “Sudden and Sweet/ Come the expected feel/ All life is new and new all art/ And He too Whom we love by heart” [K/PP149/2/3]

The collection also offers a chance to read through the layers of her accumulative insight into “total pain”, as she had called it by 1964, an understanding gained through hours of listening closely to hundreds of patients she interviewed while working at St Joseph’s Hospice. Through them she came to comprehend fully the patient’s place in a larger community and the need for a social and emotional aspect of care, such as in extending bereavement support to patients’ families. This not only symbolically tied the mind with the heart, but drew further on her available knowledge of “creative sensitivity” to the needs of everyone in the hospice community. Among Saunders’ papers are her collected poems, quotations and articles which substantiate this intuitive, artistic direction [Fig. 2, above]. They include lines written by patients in Britain and the U.S., some quotations translated “from the Chinese” and a few English poems from the 8th century A.D., including one dated c 780 called No Man is in the Fields. This latter poem found its way into her 1983 anthology for the bereaved and suffering, Beyond all Pain.

Beyond All Pain FINAL

Figure 3. Saunders’ own copy of “Beyond All Pain” is held as part of the library of Dame Cicely Saunders, King’s College London Archives

What is especially interesting in Saunders’ 1960s poetry collections is her preference for Christian poetry – including, for example, an amusing song from 5-year-old “Lucy” beginning with the line, “When the Baby was borned, Joseph said to Mary …” Her 1983 publication replaces most of these poems with choices that are more wide-ranging both denominationally and geographically, in itself reflective of Saunders’ personal journey in later years to reach beyond her “home” in the Anglican Evangelical tradition. Nevertheless, the thematic framework of Beyond all Pains chapters (e.g. ‘Suffering’, ‘Dying’ and lastly ‘Resurrection’) preserves a Judeo-Christian framework of meaning. For Saunders, “spirituality” was “much wider than religious practice. It is the search for meaning, the look at one’s own most important values, the feeling of looking beyond yourself and of somehow belonging to something more than you are”. [5] All researchers looking back on Saunders’ collections, regardless of their individual evaluation of the importance of the spiritual, face the fact that nearly a third of her publications, if not more, were concerned with the dynamics of “spirituality” in end-of-life care.

Bookcase 1 FINAL

Figure 4. The library of Dame Cicely Saunders, King’s Building. Access is available upon request through King’s College London Archives.

2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of St Christopher’s Hospice. This commemorative year, together with the research it promotes, is itself a season of transition, appreciation and learning, like that of Saunders’ in the years leading up to the establishment of St Christopher’s in 1967. As she herself remarked on Desert Island Discs in 1994, the modern hospice is not about “bricks and mortar” but rather about the attitudes, skills and ideas that are “spreading widely” because of St Christopher’s Hospice, enabling many patients to count their last days as their fullest. Her dedication in promoting pain control and personal concern helped to forge a comprehensive approach to medical care, a lifetime’s actualisation that is thankfully well-documented and well-looked-after. For the researcher of Hospice History as much as for the patient in its care, it might well be said, to quote a favourite anthology of Saunders’, “All in the end is harvest”.[6]

References:

[1] David Clark, “Making Sense of Cicely Saunders”. International Symposium on Cicely Saunders, Hospital San Juan de Dios, Pamplona, October 17th 2015.

[2] David Tasma, quoted in Shirley du Boulay, Cicely Saunders: The Founder of the Modern Hospice Movement (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987), 56.

[3] Saunders, Watch with Me (Sheffield: Mortal Press, 2003), 41.

[4] Norman Barrett, quoted in du Boulay, Cicely Saunders, 63.

[5] Saunders in conversation. “Elements and Models of Palliative Care: A Conversation with Dr Cicely Saunders’’, Youtube. [Accessed 15 May 2017].

[6] This line is from Edith Sitwell’s poem Eurydice and was adopted as the title of an anthology by the same name edited by Agnes Whitaker. All in the End is Harvest: An Anthology for those who Grieve (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1984) was a valued volume in Dr Saunders’ personal collection.

“Honest, Sober and Industrious”. Academic Job Hunting, Twentieth Century Style.

The Manageress
Imperial Hotel
Russell Square, W.C.1

5th September of 1947

Dear Madam

I understand that your letter of yesterday’s date applies to Miss P–, who was a student here in the Department of Botany from 1932-1935 and did some part-time teaching work in the same Department from 1938-1939. I have not seen much of her since then, but I believe she has had some business experience, and when I last saw her (January 1945) she told me she was working for an insurance company. During the time she was at the College there was no doubt about her honesty, sobriety and industry and I shall be glad if she is able to take up employment with you.

Yours faithfully,
Registrar.

For those dependent on paid employment, trying to find one’s way in the world can be a long, arduous process, affected by such variables as previous work experience, education, demonstrable skills and the caprices of our interpersonal networks and referees. In today’s world, the academic job hunt can be especially fraught, but perhaps some comfort might be drawn from the knowledge that whatever our anxieties or disadvantages, someone, somewhere has been through it all before.

King’s College London’s personnel files, which include correspondence relating to job applications from the last century, tell us as much. Miss P. had a decent start in life, attending an independent school and Cheltenham Ladies’ College before attaining a second class degree from King’s. Her academic career, however, was limited to two terms as a part time Demonstrator in the Department of Botany, salaried at £35, before drifting into secretarial work and ending up, we presume, at the Imperial Hotel [KA/FPA/1939 P-W].

KAFPA1939 P-W Miss Pease BLANKED NAME

Imperial Hotel letter requesting a reference for Miss P, 1947 [KA/FPA/1939 P-W]

In today’s tough job-hunting climate, part-time sessional teaching staff commonly bemoan the insecurity of their positions and the brevity of their contracts in a world where permanent, full-time academic tenure becomes rarer each year. Competition for academic posts was arguably less aggressive in the interwar period prior to the mass conversion of colleges to independent universities after 1945, but teaching could still be precarious. Dr C, for example, was hired as a part time Lecturer in Anatomy every year for seven consecutive years between 1930 and 1937, submitting to the circular process of applying and waiting for the formal offer of employment for his own job each time [KA/FPA/1939 A-M]. For successful candidates the turnaround of job offers was nonetheless speedy, even in the pre-Internet age. Acceptances were expedited by telegram when twice-daily snail mail just wasn’t fast enough.

KA FPA 1939 Telegram

Accepting a post by telegram Telegram, 1935 [KA/FPA/1939 P-W]

At King’s, standardised application forms were introduced in the late 1920s and have changed very little over the years, except for a brief period from the 1970s when marital status appeared as a category. Today’s forms also allow considerably more space for applicants to write their details.

King’s Application Form, 1929 [KA/FPA 1929]

Prior to the introduction of the form, applicants were expected to supply written references along with covering letters and a CV up front. It would appear that the physical presentation of written references at this early stage in the application process was closely tied to the stature of vacancy. In 1900, applicant Reverend H. C. Beeching went to the considerable trouble of having testimonials type-set and printed in letterpress. Beeching’s five references were presented in the form of an eight page booklet, a one-off prospectus for the applicant designed expressly for the position including Beeching’s covering letter. “My Lords and Gentlemen,” Beeching wrote, “I beg leave to offer myself for the post of Pastoral Theology of King’s College…I could promise that the work of the Professorship, if I were entrusted with it, should have my best care.” Beeching’s supporters concurred, testifying to his “uncommon power of exposition, and his reasonable attitude to matters of controversy in religion.” It was said that Beeching was possessed of “…a strong sympathy with young men, and with their difficulties, and enthusiasms, and aspirations” [KA/ FPA 1900].

KA FPA 1900

Letterpress booklet containing testimonials for Reverend H. C. Beeching in respect of the position of Professor of Pastoral Theology, King’s College London, 1900 [KA/FPA 1900]

Of course, even in less competitive times the interview panel still faced the age-old problem of putting names to faces after meeting applicants in person. King’s applications from the 1960s show that one such interviewer overcame this hurdle by sketching the faces of interviewees onto their forms for reference. Indeed, the pencil-sketch aide memoir seems to have become habitual for this interviewer as miniature portraits appear regularly on application forms from the early 1960s.

Grouped Portraits Cropped

Faces of hopefuls sketched onto application forms during interviews, early 1960s [KA/FPA 1960-1962]

Glasses

Glasses! [KA/FPA 1960-1962]

Very Brown Eyes

“Very brown eyes…green shirt and pullover” [KA/FPA 1960-1962]

For data protection reasons, only older personnel files are available for readers to view in the Archives Reading Room. Scholars researching Organisational History or the History of Human Resources Management will find them a potentially fruitful pathway into understanding the practicalities of the 20thC academic job hunt. For the rest of us, I would venture to say that there is something reassuring about continuities with applying for jobs, academic or otherwise, in the present day.