Wednesday, June 27, 2012
When did nurses stop wearing those funny caps? When did they stop wearing the starched white uniforms? Well, that's one of the things about collecting old photographs. If I hadn't picked up these four images, I would have never wondered why.
The first nurses were Catholic nuns. With the rise of protestant denominations and the missionary movement, other sects got into the act and started teaching young women the basics of medicine. And then, along came Florence Nightingale. I've made the point in past posts that, contrary to modern opinion, women did work before World War 2 and feminism. They worked as farm laborers, servants, and with the industrial revolution, factory hands. It was upper class women that didn't work. Nightingale was an exception. From a wealthy English family, Florence Nightingale felt a calling from God to minister to the sick, so she sought out training and then lead a group of other like minded women to nursing during the Crimean War. After the war, she decided that nurses needed formal education, and that only respectable women should enter the profession. In 1860, at St. Thomas Hospital in London, she started the first secular nursing school. And since it was a profession, she demanded that her graduates wear a uniform. The first caps were modeled after nun's habits and were intended to do no more than keep hair in place, but as time went by, designs changed. In some American nursing schools, distinct caps were designed for the exclusive use of their graduates.
Anyway, from what I've been able to find out, the practice of traditional caps and uniforms began to die out in the 1980s. There wasn't anything significant about the changing tradition. Scrubs were cheaper, more comfortable, and easier to clean.
No names or dates on the photos, though forties or fifties, I think, would be a good guess. It looks like our nurse had visiting family, and after they headed back home, she and her friends broke out the gallon jug of Gallo wine and had a party.