A look back at nurses in 1950

7 May

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
  • instability

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?

7 Responses to “A look back at nurses in 1950”

  1. M A Suboor January 28, 2015 at 1:42 am #

    This is a nice article on the history of nurses and their lives. The nurses uniforms were also constantly changing as the times were changing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bobbie Brannum October 7, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    I wished I could have been around in the 1940s & 1950s or even in the 1920s – life was a lot better back then.

    Like

  3. Karolina May 14, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    Hmm impressive pictures, I think I prefer the bottom-right one 🙂

    Like

  4. Barbara Gordon May 8, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Loved this article. I graduated from a 3-year hospital diploma program in 1963 and marvel at the way nurses were thought of back in the day.

    We had no married students in our class at the onset but they did accept a couple of gals as time went on. I still have a close knit relationship with classmates and we’re having our 50th reunion in September.

    What I recall was how we staffed our hospital during the summers and worked with no pay, even were in charge during the evenings and nights… but we graduated knowing hands-on nursing procedures and felt very prepared when we graduated.

    Thanks for the memories of our great profession.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 8, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      Thank you Barbara for taking the time to share those memories. Sounds like nursing students back then were considered unpaid staff members at your hospital. Happy 50th reunion to you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Veronica May 15, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

      I too went to a 3 year diploma nursing program & graduated in 1963! Oh yes, we staffed the evening & nights, especially summer & holidays. I remember being age 17 & in charge of the whole floor of 40 patients.

      We did learn though. No coddling us. And I went to a nursing school run by Catholic nuns! Double the whammy 🙂 I am very close to a nursing classmate who I also went to high school with! We were a small nursing school class, only 16 of us. The bond remained.

      So nice to find this site!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carolyn Thomas May 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

        Hi Veronica – age 17 and in charge of 40 patients! Can you even imagine such a thing happening today? Thanks so much for your comment here.

        Liked by 1 person

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