Happy National Nursing Week to my wonderful nurse friends!
Can you identify the countries in which these nurse uniforms were worn?
International Nurse Uniform Photograph Collection (ca. 1950), Helene Flud Health Foundation
(Left to right, top to bottom) 1950 nurse uniforms as worn in:
- Philippines, Denmark, British Honduras
- Hong Kong, Madeira, Kenya
- Nepal, Dominican Republic, Colombia
Canadian Nursing Students in 1950 at Children’s Hospital School of Nursing in Halifax, Nova Scotia
The Children’s Hospital School of Nursing, specializing in pediatrics, was established in 1916. The school offered a three-year professional nursing course and prepared young women to qualify for any branch of nursing after graduation. It was also the first school of nursing in Eastern Canada to accept an African-Canadian student in 1945. Most nursing schools would not accept married women, and immediately ended the training of nurses who married or became pregnant.
In 1950, women entering the 3-year nursing training program at Children’s Hospital paid no tuition, but were required to pay a student government registration fee of $5. Nursing text books cost approximately $55. Nursing students lived in the on-site nurses residence throughout their three years of training. Results of all course examinations were sent home to the students’ parents, who were then required to sign and return forms to the nursing school. A monthly weight record was also kept of all students.
Nursing school incidentals required upon entrance into this program included:
- one pair of bandage scissors
- one pair of white nurses shoes ($8.00)
- two pairs of white nylons (at $1.00 each)
- three nurse dresses (approximately $4.75 each)
- six collars (at 35¢ each)
- 14 aprons (at $2.50 each)
- one alarm clock
- one wrist watch
- one napkin ring
- one steamer rug or colored blanket
- two labelled cotton laundry bags (20 inches by 20 inches)
Nurses were also required to purchase a cape after six months, which in the 1950s cost anywhere from $21-$30.
After graduating, salaries for nurses at the time averaged $140 per month, but some hospitals paid as little as $90 per month. Many hospitals would not employ married women (this practice continued well into the 1960s in some communities). Up until then, many married graduates worked as private-duty nurses.
In 1948, the labour relations committee of the Manitoba Association of Registered Nurses released a report which documented the reasons why the province seemed unable to recruit and retain enough nurses. These reasons included:
- long hours
- low salaries
- poor living conditions
- too few holidays
The average workweek for nurses at this time was 48 hours (and in at least three hospitals ranged from 66 to 90 hours), compared to the public health agency average of 38 – 40 hours.
In 1949, the Manitoba provincial government announced that new hospital funding would not be given to hospital boards unless they could guarantee they had found nurses to staff them, and would not be ‘raiding’ other facilities to find nurses. The government also recommended that hospitals create pension plans for nurses as a way to encourage women to work in their facilities.
Interestingly, this potential solution to the nursing shortage was not taken very seriously. Nursing was then considered to be:
“…a natural extension of a woman’s caring and nurturing role as mother, wife, and daughter, and was devalued as such.”
This ineffectiveness of voluntary salary schedules and personnel policies was actually one of the main reasons for growing interest in unionization. Staff nurses began to show their willingness to use collective action to improve their working conditions.
Although they were not unionized, nurses at the Virden District Hospital in Manitoba walked off the job in October of 1957, striking for better wages after unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate a pay increase for three months. The women were immediately fired, and replaced by former nurses who had had to leave the profession when they married.
Sources include: Mount Saint Vincent University Archives and the Manitoba Nurses Union
Q: Are you a nurse? What are the most significant changes in the profession since you graduated?
UPDATE, July 4, 2018: Nurse, professor emerita at Dalhousie University and author Dr. Barbara Keddy’s book about the history of nurses’ training in the 1950s is called The Lamp Was Heavy, a history of nurses’ training in the 1950s. Ordering info here.
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote about nurses (and doctors) in my book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“. You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).