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Student Nurses: 1942

Student Nurses: 1942

Sept. 1942. Rochester, N.Y. "Shirley Babcock at right in the front listening to a lecture with other student nurses." Latest installment in the Babcock saga from the camera of Ralph Amdursky for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Re: Nursing Uniforms vs Scrubs

Savannah - There is a bit of truth in what you say, but only a bit. Scrubs for some doctors (mostly surgeons and anesthesiologists) and everyone else working in Surgery, such as OR nurses, Surgical Technologists, SPD (Sterile Processing Department) Staff, plus NICU Nurses (in some but not all facilities) and L&D (Labor and Delivery) staff are indeed laundered by the hospital, Those staff members are required by Infection Control to NOT wear anything that could be construed as "street clothing" while on the job, including "store bought" scrubs worn from home and out and about as some people insist on doing before and after their shifts. The hospital laundry has the industrial machinery and laundry processes in place to get out "biological contamination" that nobody would wish to carry home to their own family laundry, or try to remove with inadequate processes at home.

But, this is not true for all staff. Staff Nurses, Nurse Aids (known to some as PCTs or Patient Care Techs), Unit Secretaries and most other staff on the units where patients are cared for daily, are required to purchase and maintain their own personal uniforms, including laundering and pressing. Hospitals play no part in that, other than establishing the rules by which staff are governed.

Back when Student Nurses attended Hospital-based three year nursing schools, and lived primarily in the Student Nurses Dorms, the hospital provided not only the uniforms (although not always free) they were provided either by a large sewing department within the hospital itself, or through a separate Uniform Company. But, given the enormous amount of work required to launder, dry, starch and iron all the individual parts of the uniform worn in the 30's through the early to mid 60's, it would have been a logistical nightmare for the students to do all this up at the time for themselves. So, it was part of the benefit of their hospital training that uniform maintenance was handled by the hospital laundry. They had the proper equipment and laundry chemicals on hand to remove stains, starch heavily, and the big "mangles" on which to steam press everything quickly and efficiently. So much of the student's time was devoted to study, classes and work on the wards and in other clinical acreas, there simply were not enough hours in the day, or even space, to manage all that other work as well!


I get a kick out of some of the more obvious posed shots. The student nurses appear to have their books open to different pages, one is looking at the camera and another is trying very hard not to laugh out loud. I love these!

Shirley has some mends on her stockings, I bet in 1942 they were fairly expensive to buy. As for the shoes, I had to wear them (with the white uniform) back in 1970 in beauty school too. Talk about going through a LOT of white shoe polish!

Nursing uniforms vs. Scrubs

I believe scrubs were brought into style for nurses (and surgeons) because they are easy for hospitals to launder and are cheap to replace if irreparably stained.

I can only imagine how difficult it was to keep these white uniforms clean when you're a nurse coming into contact with all types of bodily fluids. That said, they are quite classy.

Nurse's Caps Minutia

Since every one is texting about those caps, they actually ment something. Each nursing school had its own individual cap design. So if you we're in the know, you could tell which school your nurse had attended. The one that I remember the most was from Mount Sinai (in NYC). It was a small puffed pill box made out of transparent liaise, very different from the normal designs.

In the back, pay attention!

Yeah, you, the cute one looking into the camera!

My grandmother went through RN training in the '20s and had a lot of funny stories about it. They ran nurses training pretty much like a military school, with room inspections and bed checks. Since I went to a military school (Norwich U in Vermont), I could really associate with all the things they did as a result (like greasing door knobs when the inspecting head nurse came around, etc.)

White caps and duty shoes

Although today the entire hospital staff seems to wear whatever they choose in the area of multicolored and printed "scrubs" with no headgear I'm guessing it was easier in '47 to tell the R.N.'s from the gift shop volunteers. I once inadvertently insulted an M.D. by requesting she bring me a cup of water. I thought she was a high school 'candy striper'. And as for the phrase "everybody is on the same page" this is not true in this study group. It looks as though some are in the front of the book, some in the back and some in the middle. Still I'm so thankful for the dedication and healing abilities of all those in the medical profession. I would not be here today if it weren't for their caregiving.

The blandness

Of rimless glasses!

Wicked shoes

Those nurse shoes remind me of the shoes (in black) that my maternal grandmother (1897-1983) used to wear when I was a kid in the sixties. Even then, they struck me as old fashioned and belonging to a certain character type. My grandmother didn't have it easy (widow with three kids in the Depression), and she could be tough and mean when the situation called for it. The solid heels on those shoes had a crisp and distinctive sound, and they meant business. Much as I respect her and what she stood for, the footwear always seemed to me to be distinctly witchy.

Little White Hats Were the Best Part

Ahhh, the extinct nurses uniform. I'm lucky enough to remember when nurses actually dressed like this. Now you would have a hard time telling the difference between nurses, doctors, orderlies and janitors in a major hospital. They all wear the same thing, scrubs (pretty much pajamas) and those hideous plastic Crocs shoes.

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