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Letter: a tribute to Dr John Adams

John Adams was a strong advocate of nursing history and a gifted speaker, writer and editor. Members of the RCN History of Nursing Society pay tribute to a much loved colleague.

John Adams was a strong advocate of nursing history and a gifted speaker, writer and editor. Members of the RCN History of Nursing Society pay tribute to a much loved colleague.


Left to right: Claire Chatterton, John Adams and Dianne Yarwood.

John Adams was an active and longstanding member of the RCN’s History of Nursing Society (HoNS), most recently serving as a member of the steering committee from 2011 to 2015.

Advocate of nursing history

He will be remembered as a strong advocate of nursing history and its scholarship, and for his kindness, wit and passion for making history real. He was both a gentleman and a gentle man.  

As professor Anne-Marie Rafferty said: ‘He burrowed away quietly in the archives, often on his own initiative, as the long distance scholar but had a knack for spotting a great topic which he combined with strong historical instincts and a flair for writing.

'His quiet and modest ways meant he was never one for the limelight but brought neglected and marginalised topics to the forefront of nursing's history.’ 

PhD work

This was demonstrated most notably in John’s PhD thesis, which focused on an English psychiatric hospital (Fulbourn) during the second half of the 20th century. John used oral history and documentary sources to explore the models of mental illness used there, and the therapeutic practices associated with them. 

His external examiner, professor Peter Nolan, recalled his intelligent and respectful defence of his work at his PhD and his contribution to the body of knowledge about the history of mental health nursing. He will remember John as ‘a genuinely humble person, who saw the value of seeing nursing through the wide-angle lens of history and encouraged others to do so.’ 

Most recently, John used this knowledge as a key member of the project team which planned the RCN’s exhibition and events series – Out of the Asylum – in 2014. He also spoke at RCN Congress in Liverpool in a HoNS fringe event the same year.

John was a gifted speaker, writer and editor, and we are deeply saddened by his death. He is a great loss to the world of nursing history.  


Claire Chatterton, Alison O’Donnell and Dianne Yarwood on behalf of the RCN History of Nursing Society. 

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