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The Nurses: 1910

Continuing the Shorpy Group Portrait Weekend, we have this circa 1910 Harris & Ewing glass negative titled "Providence Hospital nurses." View full size.

Continuing the Shorpy Group Portrait Weekend, we have this circa 1910 Harris & Ewing glass negative titled "Providence Hospital nurses." View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Re: "Starch!" & "Wipe that rouge off your face!"

One of the benefits of attending nursing schools "back in the day" of living in dorms, nurses residences, nurses homes, or whatever you wish to call them, was that your laundry, or at least your uniforms, was taken care of for you by the industrial type laundry that was a part of the hospital where you trained. The advantages were clear, considering the laborious processes involved at the time, for such things as stain removal, washing, draining, rinsing, starching, drying and steam pressing those very VERY stiff bibs, aprons, cuffs, collars and hand pressing the caps as well. Plus the striped dress worn underneath and/or with all those other pieces. The amount of space, the plethora of equipment and laundry supplies - soaps, brushes, starch, etc., - and most of all the TIME required to accomplish such a task weekly, on 5 to 7 pieces of each item and double on the cuffs, made the whole process quite impossible for over a dozen girls to accomplish properly, if at all. In addition, time in classes, time on the wards, and time studying, much less time to eat, sleep, and have some kind of what could be considered a healthy, active social life at the time would render the whole thing ridiculously impossible to even consider!

So, the hospital laundry, accustomed as it was to handling such things with the most up-to-date industrial laundry equipment available, was the obvious choice. All that was required of the students was to mark each individual piece of her own uniforms with the standard laundry marking required by that school, in order to ensure it's prompt return once washed and processed. Personal laundry was another issue entirely, and depended completely on the arrangements made by the school, if any, with any local commercial laundries.

As for Cherry Ames books, I still have the first four of the series in their original "dark cherry red" first edition bindings, which belonged to my mother. She got them from her parents as gifts, as soon as they were published, during WWII when she was the same age I was then, and her dad was an officer stationed overseas in the army with Patton's staff. She gave them to me to read when I was nine, and stuck home in bed during a nasty endemic of the swine flu as it hit the whole east coast in the middle 60's!

I was so, so sick for a while when it first hit me. But not nearly the only one! It was so bad, that doctors were back to making house calls again! And ours came to our house, instead of him filling up his office with contagious patients and not-sick who only needed check ups, especially babies! Anyway, after I could actually sit up and take notice, as they used to call it, I was soon bored to death after working on my class work for a while, or listening to the radio. She knew I had always wanted to be a nurse, so she gave me her books! I adored them, and got caught reading late into the night with my sheet and blankets pulled up over my head, with a small flashlight, so I could read them after my official 9:00pm bedtime!

I later got more of the contemporary editions for Christmas and birthdays! Since I've grown up, married, had children, become a Surgical Technologist (suited me perfectly when nursing wasn't quite the "fit" I had been seeking, etc.,) I found that eBay has helped me fill in the gaps where I had not received the right issues to fill out my set when I was much younger.

As for the rouge comment, that's one of my very favorite ones in the book, and forever launched the "War with Dr. Wylie!" He's absolutely insistent that her rosy cheeked coloring is the result of the use of "rouge" - blush to us - which is forbidden to student nurses, except for the occasional evening formal occassions, that he's constantly extolling the loud command for her to "Wipe that rouge off your face!"

Is it just my imagination

Or are those ladies corsetted up something fierce? The nice folks at The Bob & Tom Show assure me that "nurses are hot and ready to party", but from this evidence it would appear that was a development that took place considerably after 1910. At any rate, I call first dibs on the beauty in the front, camera left.

Cap and Gown

I'm shocked that anyone anywhere still allows nurses to wear caps, let alone mandates it. So many studies done about the invisible petri dish of germs that caps become when worn in the clinical setting...

I graduated with a BSN in 1994, and even back then the use of caps was so discouraged that students could no longer purchase them through the college as a souvenir.

We got to wear one for graduation pictures. And I do mean "one" - the school only had one cap available, and we took turns having our picture taken in it.

Pince-Nez glasses

In addition to the uniforms, it's interesting to see how eyewear style has evolved. Two of the four ladies are wearing pince-nez style glasses. To me, Pince-Nez always looked like they would very uncomfortable to wear for long periods, especially with the heavy glass lenses back then.

This image was taken just after Teddy Roosevelt's administration, and I believe he caused a nationwide resurgence in the popularity of the pince-nez style glasses for a time.


Usually "Msgr." -- Monsignor.

[The first of 23 comments giving this answer! - Dave]

In Praise of Nurses

Providence Hospital seems to have had an association with Catholic University long before they were eventually absorbed into it. Thus far, I can't find any reporting in the Washington Post of a commencement which matches the number (13) of nurses seen in this photo. Of interest to me, is the fact that men, while not pictured here, were training as nurses at this time. Also, maybe someone can explain the title of "Mgr. Diomede Falconia." While the contemporary interpretation of "Mgr" is "manager," I suspect the Catholic Church of a century ago used this abbreviation for something else.

Falconio Praises Nurses

Pays Tribute to Profession in Presenting
Diplomas at Providence Hospital

Nurses as "women who must always be prepared to give in a spirit of charity and kindness" were praised by Mgr. Diomede Falconio, the apostolic delegate, in his address delivered at the commencement exercises of the hospital training school, held on the roof garden of Providence Hospital yesterday. Mgr. Falconio presented eleven girls who were graduated with their diplomas, and then delivered his address, which was a tribute to their profession.

The exercises were attended by several hundred persons. Following the invocation by Mgr. Falconio addresses were delivered by the Rev. J.W. Melody, of the Catholic University, and Dr. C.C. Marbury, both of whom spoke on the duties which the "art of nursing the sick" imposes on those who follow it.

Washington Post, May 10, 1911

Nurses Receive Diplomas

Class of Eleven Complete Prescribed
Course at Providence Hospital

At the graduation exercises yesterday afternoon at Providence Hospital eight young women and three young men received diplomas as nurses. The exercises were held on the roof garden of the hospital, which was decorated with the class colors and flowers sent by friends of the class.

The Rev. William J. Kerby, Ph. D., S.T.D., delivered the opening address. He reminded the graduates that they were emissaries of the hospital, and that they were, in reality, a part of the organic home of the country, and public-spirited servants of the afflicted.

Dr. J.F. Mitchel, who delivered the address in the afternoon, referred to the fact that the three greatest developments in surgery since the fifteenth century were anesthetics, listerism, and trained nurses, and that without the latter the first two are inadequate. He ended his remarks by quoting the Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem, "The Morning Visit."

J.M. Stoddard spoke on behalf of the hospital board of visitors, and Dr. Marbury presented the members of the class with their diplomas. This is the first class from Providence in which men have received diplomas as graduate nurses.

Washington Post, May 15, 1912

Re: Cap Habit

Hmmm, I'm thinking that a clever Japanese hospital would have hats that reflect the nurse's mood. They would be relaxed - as these girls are in the picture and then inflate gradually as stress levels elevate.

It would make life a lot easier to know which of them to avoid (ie: the ones where the hats don't fit through the doors anymore).

Cap habit

I showed this to my RN wife who asked me to print this out so she could take it to her hospital here in Japan, she recently has been appointed Director of Nursing and the Hospital's cap policy is under discussion, she thinks this will be a great tool in her efforts to keep the caps simple...Thank you Dave.

"Wipe that rouge off your face!"

This picture makes me want to dig out my old Cherry Ames books and give them another read.


Boggling how much starch they must be using. On some of the girls in the front row, you can see where their aprons aren't resting on the shoulders. They are standing up totally unassisted.

Married Nurses

Student nurses were not allowed to be married, even in the 1950s, at most nursing schools. The exception were the 5 year University programs, some of which allowed married students. The thought was, that if a married student got pregnant, it would interrupt her studies, and she might not finish the program. The three year hospital nursing schools had a set curriculum, and did not have the flexibility of the University based programs, which ran on a semester system.

These are student nurses, witnessed by the striped sleeves. This was perhaps their capping ceremony, or perhaps a graduation photo, as they are all wearing pins. Once they began working as graduate nurses, they would wear all white uniforms. And possibly have a velvet band or an emblem on their caps to designate the school they graduated from.

And yes, nursing education has changed greatly. Having graduated from a three year hospital based program in the 1950s I can say that I had excellent hands-on bedside training. But we were also taught to bow and scrape to the doctors. Now there is a more collaborative relationship. It took me a while to start calling the MDs that I worked closely with by their first names. It got easier once I was an older nurse and the MDs were young enough to be my children.

An old RN

C.U. School of Nursing

The Providence Hospital School of Nursing was absorbed into the Catholic University of America (in the neighborhood) between 1939 and 1949. It is thus in a direct line with the current Catholic University School of Nursing. They did give up the hat style, unfortunately.

A checkup

As a modern-day RN aware of the subservient history of the profession, I couldn't help but think when I saw the man in the window, "And there's a doctor, waiting for them to come back in and get him coffee." Glad those days are long gone!

(In seriousness, I'd rather think that the man is more of a curious admirer.)

I wonder if Providence Hospital allowed their nurses to be married back then? I see no wedding rings.

Fallen Women

Oh my goodness, how did anyone keep a straight face? Thirteen little souffles in a row.


Those hats look like a deflated chef's toque.

Everyone has a twin

Even though it has been nearly 100 years, I can see people I know in these pictures. The girl on the far left in the front row reminds me of Renee Zellweger.


It's OK to smile ladies. It helps to reassure and calm the restless patients. They do look efficient, though, and very clean.

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