Born 23 August 1843 Rebecca Thorogood in Aldgate, London.
In 1865 she married Andrew Robert Strong, gave birth to Annie Ellen Strong same year and in 1866 she was widowed. The following year, Rebecca was accepted as a probationer at the Florence Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital and she became the first to complete training supervised by Miss Nightingale, with whom she remained in regular contact throughout the remainder of the great lady’s life. She initially worked in Winchester Hospital as Sister and in 1871, she was transferred to Netley Military Hospital
1874 she was appointed Matron at Dundee Royal Infirmary where Dr R. Sinclair was superintendent. With Sinclair’s support, she significantly improved standards of care and hygiene.
In 1879 she was appointed Matron at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and formed a professional alliance with the chief surgeon William MacEwen. With his support, she made improvements to hygiene and patient care, with specific attention to sterilisation techniques. She also applied her energies to better training for nurses with the ultimate aim of raising nursing to the status of a profession. Ultimately, Rebecca and MacEwen introduced the “Block Apprenticeship Programme” which was eventually adopted worldwide. Short periods of instruction for trainee nurses were followed by periods of practical experience on wards. Previously, nurses were expected to work up to 14 hours in hospital and then attend lectures in their own time. The pioneer Preliminary Training School was opened officially in January 1893 under an arrangement between GRI and St Mungo’s Medical College. The College had formerly been the GRI medical school and was eventually amalgamated with Glasgow University’s medical faculty in 1947.
In 1884, Rebecca Strong resigned her post, mainly in frustration at the unwillingness of the authorities to construct a nurses’ home.
She opened her own nursing home and accepted patients from MacEwen, with whom she remained in close contact.
In 1891 she returned to her post as Matron at GRI by which time a nurses’ home had been constructed. During the remainder of her working life at GRI she established the Scottish Nurses’ Association, with the objective of working towards a single system of state registration for nurses nationwide. This eventually happened in 1919.
1893 her Scheme of Nursing Education (Preliminary Training School) was introduced and became the foundation of all such schemes ever since. GRI became one of the foremost training centres for nurses in the UK. At the age of 64, in 1907, she retired from her post at GRI.
Following repeated petitions by friends and former colleagues, she was appointed OBE in 1938. In 1942, the MacEwen Medal in Surgical Nursing and the Mrs Strong Medal in Medical Nursing were established in GRI to commemorate the pioneering work of both individuals.
In 1943, she received congratulations from both the King and Queen on the occasion of her 100th birthday.
Rebecca Strong remained active almost right up to the time of her death. She travelled in Europe, the United States and Canada, discussing her experiences and tirelessly advocating equality of education for women. She firmly believed that intelligent women should not waste their lives, unproductive and unfulfilled. Her own intelligence, spirit and vision made an enduring difference to the nursing profession.
1944, April 24, in her 101st year, she was cremated in Chester, where she had gone to live with her great nephew, Dr Tindall and his wife, after being injured in a WW2 bombing raid on Glasgow.
Rebecca Strong’s only child, Annie, moved to Scotland with her mother. In 1886 she married Adolph Hans Geyer in Govan. They had 5 children. Annie Ellen junior became a nurse; Adolph Robert and Westall Stelber both doctors. Westall’s son and Rebecca’s great grandson, David Geyer who is now 92 years old, remembers her fondly.