Pearson, Emma Maria 1828-1893


Emma Pearson led an interesting life. She was in Rome when the attack by Garibaldi was repulsed by French troops. Emma Pearson with a friend, Louisa McLaughlin, started working for the National Health Society, as soon as it was established in 1869. The Society undertook relief work for the London poor. The two women were trained by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Europe’s first woman doctor. In 1870, the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War was formed, giving help to all warring armies under the protection of the Red Cross. When war broke out between France and Prussia in 1870, Emma Pearson and Louisa Mclaughlin immediately signed up for this society. A week later they were nursing about 100 desperately wounded men.  She devoted herself to attend, at first, to the wounded of both armies, but after the Battle of Orleans in 1870, exclusively to those of the French.   They were then invited to join the Anglo-American Ambulance in Sedan in the Ardennes. After passing through fields of burnt corpses, the nurses arrived just after the Battle of Sedan, which had left 5,000 dead and 20,000 wounded.

After a month in Sedan, Emma and Louisa returned to England, where they learned that the Red Cross would not support them if they set up an ambulance for which the Bishop of Orleans was pleading. They therefore made an independent appeal and established their Ambulance Anglaise in Orleans. Within weeks a major battle started and, out of 1,400 patients, the nurses lost only 40. This death rate was far the lowest of any field station in the area, because Emma and Louisa had insisted on exquisite cleanliness at a time when most surgeons did not wash their hands, and Florence Nightingale scoffed at the notion of germs. They assisted at major operations of the wounded. In acknowledgment of her services Emma Pearson received the French Red Cross. In 1872, she was presented with the decoration of the Sarutas Kreuz Militar. When the Serbo-Turkish War began in 1876, Emma and Louisa set off as volunteers to work with the Red Cross Society of Serbia. Armed with parasols and disinfectant, they took care of the wounded Serbian soldiers. Upon returning to England, Emma and Louisa set up one of London’s only two private nursing homes and they assisted Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, in his operations. In about 1890, Emma Pearson moved to Florence where she died of cancer in 1893 at the age of 65 years.