1900s fashion, sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

A Fact About Nurses That I Never Knew

I’m a nurse. Have been for a while. I graduated in 1983, so I’m what my boss used to call an old nurse. I’ve seen uniforms come and go, and even got into a discussion on Facebook the other day about how I miss nurses wearing white. Yes, it was a pain in the butt to do the laundry, but at least people knew the nurses from the housekeepers, but I digress.

So I came across this little nugget the other day, when I was scanning a new book about drawn thread embroidery and listing it in the shop. First, let’s look at nurse’s uniforms in the UK in the early 1900s.

British Nurses, early 1900s. Photo: Pinterest

Apparently,their caps had bonnet strings. The book I scanned said that nurses liked to decorate their bonnet strings with drawn thread work. The designs were simple. The strings were made from lawn linen, as were a lot of garments then. One piece of lawn could make several strings, so you could make them in multiples all at the same time. The lawn had to be 56 inches in length, and 5-6 inches in width.

The pictures above and below show the end of a bonnet string when embellished with drawn thread embroidery. I’d never hear of this before, but I think they are beautiful. It reminds me of how kids in school uniforms still try to stand out by accessorizing differently, but with nursing, we’ve always been held in an even tighter box with our uniforms. When I started working in the nursery, we couldn’t even wear mascara, because it might drop on a baby and contaminate them. Mascara. Life threatening. Who knew? I’ve never had manicures done on any regular basis, or even worn nail polish. Jewelry is even a no-no in many nursing jobs, except a pair of stud earrings and a wedding band, so this really fascinated me. It shows me that even in the days of washing out bedpans by hand and taking care of patients without antibiotics, there were still living human beings who just wanted to look pretty. Isn’t that wonderful?

And while you are at it, check out this list of nursing rules from the early 1900s. “Don’t forget your coal.” Good stuff.