Nurse uniforms in the 1940s consisted of dresses, aprons and caps. Nurses also wore a pin that described their rank in the hierarchy of nurses. Nurse uniforms were standardized in England in 1948 when the National Health Service came into being. These dresses were calf-length and more practical and comfortable than the long tippet, or nursing cloak, that military nurses wore during the First World War.
The Nurse’s Cap
The white nursing cap is both practical and ceremonial. Historically, it was fashioned like a nun’s habit and was meant to celebrate the nuns who had worked in hospitals in earlier times. It kept the nurse’s hair neat and looked professional and authoritative. Eventually, different kinds of caps and buckles were worn to signify different ranks of nurses. When a nursing student graduated, she was allowed to take part in the “capping” ceremony, wherein she received her certificate and her nurse’s cap.
What Nurses Wore in WWII
In Britain, the Gray Lady Service military nurses wore gray, cotton shirtwaist -belted dresses with detachable white collars, along with cuffs and epaulets. They previously wore gray veils, but this was replaced in 1942 by gray coifs attached to a coronets with a red cross in the center. The nurse’s aides wore blue pinafores with short-sleeved white blouses that had service patches on the left sleeves. They also wore blue caps with white bands and service badges.
Metal, silver or gold nursing pins have traditionally been part of nurse uniforms; they identify the nursing school. There is a “pinning ceremony” where nurses receive their pins when they graduate from the nursing school. In the 1940s, the Maltese cross was used in many of the nursing pins and represented the tradition of medical care that originated with the order of Christian warriors, known as the Knights Hospitaller.
Male Nurses in the 1940s
Even though there very few male nurses (no more than 1 percent) in 1948 when the NHS began in Britain, there were male military nurses during the WWII. In 1940, the American Nurses Association established the Men Nurses’ Section. Male nurse uniforms have not changed as much as those of their female colleagues. Male nurses usually wore white tunics with different colored epaulets to signify their rank.
References and ResourcesHistory: Nurses Uniforms, Caps and Badges
Cybernurse: Nursing Caps
ResourcesHistory of the Nurse's Cap
A New Role for Nurses