Still at Sister’s House

Phyllis Inspiration 43 Comments

We are still there, and sister is at the beach! While she’s been gone, I’ve had full run of the house, and full parent duty. Last week, my Dad was in the hospital and I stayed there to help both my mom and him if they needed it. Hospitals are a very interesting place. When I was a child, I had a tonsillectomy (which was a disaster in my book) and found out that experiences we have, as children will carry into our adult life. Back then, in the dark ages, nurses wore white starched hats and dresses accessorized with white hose and shoes. There were no cartoon characters on the wall and trendy-dressing nurses; there were professionally trained ladies who took no prisoners. Prior to my little surgery, I was wrapped in a sheet like a mummy and transported to the operating room. Because of my pre-surgery burrito’d state, I am to this day still terribly claustrophobic.

Dad’s nurses had bright colored scrub suits and comfortable shoes. They were so happy to be there helping people. They told us all about their families, great restaurants we had missed, and their careers as nurses. It was a great experience being around happy people who loved serving others. So what happened to the white starched nurses caps? I have often wondered how the change came about. I loved seeing the various shapes and curves each nurse had depending on the school she attended. Male nurses are lucky enough to wear nothing on their heads, but the ladies had to have the cap. I did a little research.

Here is what I found:

The nurse’s cap originated from a group of women in the early Christian era, called “deaconesses.” Deaconesses are now recognized as religious order nuns. These women were distinguished from other women during this time by white coverings worn on their heads. This particular head covering was worn to show that this group of women worked in the service of caring for the sick. Originally, this head covering was more of a veil, but it later evolved into a white cap during the Victorian era. It was during this era that proper women were required to keep their heads covered. The cap worn was hood-shaped with a ruffle around the face and tied under the chin, similar to cleaning ladies of that day. Long hair was fashionable during the Victorian era, so the cap kept the nurse’s hair up and out of her face, as well as keeping it from becoming soiled.

Florence Nightingale originally used the nursing cap in the 1800s. Different styles of caps were used to depict the seniority of the nurse, the frillier and longer, the more senior the nurse.

The nursing cap is a nearly universally recognized symbol of nursing. It allows patients to quickly identify a nurse in the hospital from other members of the health team.

Around 1874, the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City adopted a special nursing cap as a way to identify nurses who had graduated from Bellevue. The Bellevue cap covered the entire head except the ears, and can be compared to a current ski hat, although it was made out of white linen and had fringe around the bottom. As the number of nursing schools increased, so did the need for unique caps. Each nursing school decided to design their own style of nurse’s cap. Some became very elaborate and some were even different shapes. Because each school had their own cap, it became very easy to determine which school the nurse had graduated from.

In a global perspective, the nurses’ cap continues to be widely used. However, the use of the nurses’ cap had begun to slowly decline in Western Europe and Northern America by the mid-1970s. The use of nurses’ caps in the medical facilities of the United States all but disappeared by the late 1980s with the near universal adoption of “scrubs.” In countries where the nursing cap is no longer required as a part of a nurse’s uniform, it still holds the same significance that it did during the time of Florence Nightingale. The nursing cap symbolizes the goal of nurse, which is to provide “service to those in need.” Furthermore, the cap is a sign of the industry’s ageless values of dedication, honesty, wisdom, and faith.

Today, I salute the nurses who serve all of us faithfully. You work endless hours, walking up and down the halls of medical facilities, tending to the needs of patients and their families. I admire your commitment to education and the ever changing world of medicine. You look into the hearts of those around you and realize that you are a voice of knowledge, calm, and hope in an uncertain world. Service is your calling and extending your hands to help people is your mission. Thank you from all of us who have benefited from your love and attention.

Comments 43

  1. I enjoyed reading your history of the nurses’ cap, and I salute the nurses who have replied here and who served in their profession with love, tenderness, professionalism and pride. My mother’s best friend was a nurse who came to our aid many times to lend her skills in caring for my youngest sister who has special needs. I can recall her cap and the uniform she wore although when she came to our house, she was usually in her street clothes since she was there mainly as a friend with special training.
    My first in-hospital experience was with the birth of my son in 1964. I was in a Catholic hospital in Houston, Texas where even the Sisters of Charity wore white habits when working. Everything was spotless….the nurses, the aids, the rooms, the babies, and especially the patients. Most of the nursing staff were warm and friendly while instilling confidence with their professionalism. There are always exceptions to the rule.
    Fast forward 33 years to the birth of my daughter’s first baby in 1997 in another hospital in another city. She was only in the hospital about 30 hours, in the same room for labor, delivery, and the next 24 hours. During that time I couldn’t tell the doctors from a volunteer, the linens were never changed and the trash was never emptied. I was horrified.
    Fast forward another 20 years to my most recent hospital experience when my husband was taken ill while we were vacationing in a popular tourist city in Georgia. There was very little distinction between the nurses and the janitorial services in there dress. In fact the RN’ s had to empty the trash on occasion. Some of the nurses were exceptional, others did their jobs. A few even wore white uniforms which immediately projected confidence and professionalism.
    Transfer to another major hospital in Houston where it didn’t seem to matter who wore what. Everyone did their jobs professionally and compassionately. I was surprised one day to find myself talking with a surgeon when I thought I was talking with a nurse, though.
    I subscribe to the belief that neater dress leads to neater work. I’m one of those who misses the white caps and the respect it earned and the professionalism it seemed to inspire. I’m not too wild about today’s practice of hospital clerical people wearing a white coat while the professionals may be wearing jeans and a tee shirt……..I did mention I’m in Texas.
    I enjoy your articles immensely. Well wishes for your dad, and a big, warm thank you to all the medical people who do their jobs well and with care. I wish you great work areas where you receive the assistance, support, pay and respect you deserve.

  2. I miss seeing the nurses’ hats. My aunt was a nurse in the 40s and 50s and she always looked so clean and neat in her starched dress and white stockings and cap.

  3. I graduated in 1970 from Good Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing in Phx, Az. Nursing is truly a calling, it was my privilege to care for so many patients and also their families. I wore my cap only one time and that was on graduation day, but I still have it and cherish it as I did so many years ago. My passion was the operating room, and after 45 years I retired. But now, I spend one afternoon a week volunteering in the Surgical Waiting Room in a hospital in San Antonio, Tx. To all practicing Nurses and those that are in training, thank you for your dedication, your compassion and your knowledge. You make a difference in someone’s life everyday. Blessings to you.

  4. It was so nice to read your story about nursing caps & their eventual demise. Sad. My wonderful Mom grew up in a very poor family and thought she would never be able to attend nursing school………but somehow she did. She graduated in the early 1940’s with hopes of becoming a stewardess upon graduation. (In those days to be a stew, you also had to have your nursing degree) But it turned out she was too short, so there went that dream. When I was growing up, I so remember her immense pride in her nursing cap & what it represented for her personally. She graduated from Presbyterian in Denver, CO…….but spent most of her nursing years in So. California. I still have one of her caps, flat & crisp, and the whole family loves to view it. It reminds us all of a very proud lady who had great compassion for the sick & injured and made time in the early years of her career to treat their bodies & their worries. Listening to a patient’s concerns was allowed, unlike today, and reports were handwritten to include the emotional state of a patient as well as their physical state. Even as uniforms changed thru the years, she always wore the pin that represented the hospital of her graduation…..and occasionally someone recognized it’s origin & conversations followed. I don’t care for the uniforms that nurses wear in hospital work today, but understand their practicality. I try to remember that it’s not the clothes that makes a caring nurse……’s the ” caring” that makes a nurse special………. no matter what she wears. God bless these men and women who look after us when we can’t do it ourselves……….. & help them with all the darn reports they must enter into the computer to cover their “as..s” and still do the job they signed up for, even without their symbolic caps.

  5. I graduated from dental hygiene school & we too wore caps, starched white uniforms, white hose & shoes. It was such an honor to receive the purple velvet ribbon that was presented at our capping ceremony. Like nursing, our dress standards have evolved to wearing scrubs, athletic shoes & no caps. Although we might dress differently today, we still have the same goal of helping patients achieve excellant dental health & keeping their teeth for a lifetime.
    Hope your Dad is feeling much better!

  6. Like Carole Brightbill, I too graduated from Ga Baptist, only a bit earlier, in 1977. Not only did we wear all the prerequiste dress uniforms, hose & caps, but we even had itchy navy blue capes! I’m happy to say that 40 years later I’m still in the profession. When I think of all the lifting and moving of patients we did in those dresses! Thank goodness for scrubs!

  7. I graduated from nursing school in 1992 and we still wore white in our small town but not the hat. That has since gone away. I admit that I kind of liked wearing the white dress, stockings and shoes. Everyone wears scrubs from doctors to volunteer helpers in admissions. The white set us apart and it seemed more professional. I sometimes miss the old days!!!

  8. I graduated from nursing school in 1975 and we wore white caps, white dresses, white hose and shoes. As mentioned before, this was terribly impractical and immodest. Scrubs are so much easier but there was something special about those caps. Don’t miss the short white dresses though! I’ve been a nurse for over 40 years and it’s been a wonderful profession. I’m glad to hear your dad had a good experience and hope he is recovering.

  9. I began nursing school in 1972 when I was already in my late 20’s. Unfortunately, half way through, a divorce kept me from finishing. I did get my EMT license and worked in the emergency room for a few years, then finished out my 20 year career as a lab tech. I do still have my cap, even though it has a few tooth marks where my Irish Setter pulled it off the table and played with it for a while! My aunt was a nurse at the time and encouraged me to be proud to wear the uniform, white stockings and all. It is a profession that will never go out of style. A machine will never replace the warm caring touch only a human nurse, female or male, can give.

  10. What fun to read your post and then everyone’s replies. I am a recently retired RN who loved nursing and wanted to be a nurse from age five. I was elated to receive my cap and go from brown velvet strips to finally getting the coveted black band that went the entire width of my cap. I still have the ones from training and graduation. But, they did get in the way and they didn’t look too good with scrubs! I think the one thing I miss about the white uniforms and caps is the ability to tell “who is who” in the hospital. I know some hospitals have different colors for their employees, but the recognition that RN’s once held is missing. I know the cap is just a symbol…but I still miss it! I also thank all of you who carry on the wonderful career I was proud to be a part of. Hope your Dad is recovering and will go home soon.

  11. I loved everything about my nursing school days at GA Baptist Hospital School of Nursing, in Atlanta, back in 1981!! It truly is a calling. What really makes a Nurse’s job fulfilling is when she has sweet patients and family members, like your Daddy and you, who are kind and wonderful and are a joy to take care of! Glad he is feeling better.

  12. Thank you so much! That picture surely brought back memories. I graduated in 1969 and worked for over 40 years in Pediatrics. I loved my kids and their families. There have been many changes in those years, but not wearing a cap was not a big problem for me. Our school was very old fashioned, and pre-starched caps were not what we had. A piece of linen which had to be starched by hand and fan-folded a specific way before the stripe could be sewn on, and then the straight pins fastened—it was a pain! Unfortunately most of my classmates couldn’t do it so I became the class cap folder. Ugh! But being a nurse was the best! We are the “most trusted profession in America” now 14 years running. Now my mom is having health issues, I can be on the other side, and I so appreciate the intelligence and kindness that nurses bring. I wish your dad well.

  13. Thank you for how the nursing caps came about , great history lesson, my youngest daughter Michaella is about to graduate in May as the first RN in our family and we couldn’t be more proud of this wonderful profession she has chosen. After just getting out of the hospital for a week I can’t say enough about how wonderful all my nurses were and are, needless to say my own girl who has shown what great skill she has learned and care she gives!! Nurses are above and beyond !!

  14. I loved these. comments! As a 1965 RN grad ,our caps and white shoes and stockings were proudly worn. Such adventures and changes have transitioned us throughout the years yet I still wear my cap and pin on special occasions.

  15. Great post!!!!! My m-in-law is 88 and still has her starched cap and beautiful wool cap. My oldest son who is 27 told us someday he would like to have as a keepsake.

    My husband thinks it is museum worthy.

    Any thoughts or suggestions from your readers?

  16. Thank you from a retired R.N. When I was in nursing school I wore the starched uniform and cap and was proud to do it. Later on I worked in a Dr’s. office and I wore scrubs. I have to admit that they were a lot more comfortable and easier to
    maintain.I have been retired for fourteen years but still treasure my cap and pin. I wish your father well.

  17. As Lidy says, hospitals are happy only for births. Hope your father is better soon.
    I was SO impressed by the nurses and other professionals who cared for my father. Many of them were immigrants–and men–who treated my dad with such respect and tenderness. It was something to see a muscular guy from Ghana handle my 6-foot, 200-lb. father as if he were a newborn baby, with as much delicacy. I was so grateful, and so was my dad, who absolutely loved the people who cared for him.

  18. My mother was a registered nurse. As a child I remember her stiffly starching her white uniform dress and cap. Her cap had a thin black ribbon that had to be in a certain place. She carefullu polished her white “grandma shoes” as I called them and her white hose never had a run in them when she left for work! Her various pins were in just the right place and order. I remember how proud Mother was to be a nurse and how professionally she took her responsibility to her patients.

  19. 1960 was the year I entered training to become a nurse. I was so proud to wear the stiftly starched uniform, white shoes and stockings that showed I was an RN not just some other person that worked in the hospital. I vividly remember receiving my cap in a capping ceremony and again so proud to wear it. The respect we received because of those uniforms was cause for us to be better people and better at our jobs. There was no guessing who was who as there is today. We may be more comfortable as our dress is less likely to identify us but there is absolutely less respect.

  20. I was very sorry to see the cap go. I worked hard for mine and was so excited to get it when I graduated. I was proud to wear it…our hospital now does do the different color scrubs for different departments but the med/surg floor wears printed smocks that just don’t have the recognition that a cap, white uniform and shoes did.

  21. What a great story. It brought back so many good memories of my mother. She graduated from Boston City Hospital. Once a year she would take me and my sister from Attleboro Ma to Boston by train to buy new nurses caps. It was such a wonderful day walking through the tunnels and down the corridors to visit the people that she worked with before we moved to Attleboro. Many years later after I got married and my children were in school I started working at a hospital in RI. There was one nurse there that still wore her cap. I was not a nurse. Every time I would see this woman in the corridor it would remind me of my mom who passed away in 1984. Thanks so much for all of your stories. You bring back memories for all of us. Ritatea

  22. May God bless our wonderful nurses!!
    They have taken good care of my husband when hospitalized for a heart condition…and taking care of me… when I curled up in a chair to stay the night with him (by bringing me a pillow and blankets). They go the extra mile to comfort and care for their patients and families… always with a smile and comforting word.

    It does not go unnoticed for they are MOST appreciated.

  23. Phyllis, I hope your Dad is doing well. Hospitals are never a happy occasion {unless it’s for the birth of a baby!} so it is wonderful to hear the one he was in has such caring, warm and friendly nurses.

    Being a nurse is such a calling of the heart. I have always appreciated the nursing staff so much when a member of our family was in the hospital. Thanks, too, for the interesting lesson about the caps. Keeping your family in my prayers for a speedy recovery. xo

  24. I graduated in ’77, one of the last classes to wear a cap. I, too, was proud to have the two stripes indicating I was a “real” nurse. That, and the white hose, and Oxford shoes, all symbols of a profession I worked hard to have the privilege to wear.
    Caps went the way of the Dodo bird as several forces came together around the same time. The were deemed unsanitary, especially as they would get caught in the privacy curtains and fall on the patient, or bed. Sometimes into body fluids. Why, yes, mine did.
    Another force was the Women’s Movement. The cap was deemed to be a symbol of the “old” school ways, where nurses were subservient to doctors, “yes doctor, no doctor” and had to get up and give the doctor your chair when he came to the nurses station, even though, that, after hours on your feet with no break, it might be the first sit-down you’d had all shift.
    Finally, the whole practicality of uniform dresses comes into play. They were impractical, not to mention immodest, when up on a bed doing chest compressions, or trying to reach something that fell under a bed. And made of polyester! blood and other body fluids were there to stay! I worked an area where scrubs were the norm, Labor and Delivery, so uniforms weren’t worn, but even early on the physicians were able to dictate that the nurses wear scrub dresses! As the older doctors retired, scrub dresses weren’t even in the shelves, the younger doctors said to call them by their first names, and, when a nurse was sitting, she stayed sat!

  25. At the hospital where my husband had his kidney transplant, the caregivers wore different colored scrubs depending upon what there role was. The RNs wore red, LPNs green, technicians & therapists tan, etc. It made it easier to identify who was who when we needed something.

  26. What a lovely history lesson, thank you. Your thank you was so heartfelt and I am sure the nurses reading this are grateful for your (all of our) appreciation.

  27. My sister, graduated in 1992 in Anchorage AK, she still is RN 25 years not sure when she will retire. My neice is graduating this May, also as an RN what wonderful and hard working women these two are. Gotta love those nurses…

  28. My mother was a registered nurse who graduated in 1927. You should see the funny photos in her yearbooks! I have her cap with the blue velvet ribbon on it. She was always so proud to wear it, and took great care to wash, starch, and press it. It would open up flat, similar to bonnets we make today, with a drawstring at the back.

  29. That picture you posted could be my class at nursing school, class of 1966. It was an honor to get your cap and each year add a black ribbon to the side of your cap. Upon graduation you got a cap with a ribbon that went on the front edge of the cap. I still miss nurses in white uniforms, you can then tell the difference between the cleaning people and the nurses. Sadly to say I never wore my cap and white uniform after graduation, as I was a surgery nurse and we had to wear scrubs and keep our hair covered, not to mention a mask most of the time, but I loved all 40yrs I worked in the OR.

  30. As a former nurse I was always proud to place my cap on my head. Although they are no longer in use, I miss seeing them and finding out where the nurse graduated from. Thanks for the reminder

  31. Seeing the above picture reminded me of my days in nursing school (I graduated in 1968-talk about the dark ages), We had a “capping” ceremony at the end of our “probie” period which was several months long. You had to have achieved a certain GPA before you were elegible for capping. That was only the first hurdle we had to master. There were many more before the end of our journey. I was so proud of my scalloped cap that would identify the school I attended. I was a nurse for 35 years and decided, at that point, to open a tea room, It is amazing how similar the two things are. Nurturing, caring, comforting, immensely satisfying is the way I would describe both nursing and owning a tea room. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have two careers that I have love and have so many wonderful memories now that I and retired.

  32. Thanks for the history. I too have often wondered about the history of the nurse uniform.
    I also can relate to the impact that a hospital stay as a child as on one in adulthood. Because of a short stay in the hospital at age four I will not eat green jello and can barely look at it without making an unattractive expression.

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