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Student Uniforms

- from Nuns and Nightingales 1982

From Starch to Polyester

- Nuns and Nightingales


The Holy Cross was one of more than a thousand training schools in North America when it admitted its first students in 1907. Their original uniforms were similar to those designed by Florence Nightingale, and not unlike the habits of the Sisters who directed the School.

Florence Nightingale Nursing Uniform

A new uniform designed by Miss Nightingale arrived in North America in 1889. This consisted of a grey and white striped cotton dress, white apron with a square bib, black stockings and black high-topped shoes. A lovely fluted lace cap, awarded at the end of the probationary period, crowned the angel of mercy.

 

In 1860, Florence Nightingale's nurses were very vastly different from the slovenly ones who staffed the ordinary hospitals. Her women wore a uniform - brown dress, snowy cap and apron. According to one observer, "They looked like bits of extra light as they moved cheerfully and noiselessly from bed to bed." Nurses wore their first uniforms during the Crimean war. It was then that nursing uniforms was given importance.

Students applying for admission in the first class were issued patterns for the uniforms they would wear after they got their caps. In the meantime, they would wear blue striped dresses issued by the hospital.

Later classes supplied their own uniforms from the beginning. These were comprised of long-sleeved blouses and skirts made from white cotton sheeting ordered from the Eaton's catalogue. The voluminous skirts covered a lace-trimmed petticoat, garter belt or girdle, white lisle stockings and the tops of high black boots. These layers were then topped by a broad, heavily starched bib and full apron. High, rounded collars, like clerics wore, cuffs of celluloid, and three-inch starched belts completed the ensemble.

Each student also sported a dark brown mark around the neck, courtesy of the constant rubbing of the high collars, which were kept stiff by the Chinese laundry on Second Street.

Caps were presented without fanfare and, as late as 1925, student probationers went to bed capless and woke in the morning to find the hard-earned caps on their night tables. If there was no cap to be found, the girl quietly packed her bags and went home.

During the roaring twenties, Holy students weren't exactly allowed to roar - but their hems were raised to eight inches from the floor. Shoes, either black or white, with Mary Jane straps could be worn on duty, and caps

Long hair was still de rigueur. A student entering with short hair was required to wear a switch and net until her own hair grew, and then it was not to be cut during her three-year training period. Students who went on a hair cutting spree in 1926 were severely disciplined and allowed to remain only if they promised to let their tresses grow again. It was a bitter defeat for girls living in the days of flappers and bobbed hair.

Uniforms Through the Years
Different Uniforms Through the Years

In the earliest days, girls received their caps complete with black bands. Students in 1915, convinced that their caps looked just like the stovepipe worn by a popular comic strip character, named their caps "Happy Hooligans" after the clown. They were changed soon after, the black bands were removed. Holy grads wore plain white caps until 1924, when the custom was revived. In the School's first decade of operation, a small, rounded crown was added to the "stovepipe" and white shoes were an optional part of the uniform. All students wore their long hair "up", and were forbidden to cut it.

After a three-month probationary period, the student nurses' first achievements were rewarded with bestowal of a small white cap without a crown, worn high on the head. This was the final addition to the uniform until a plain gold cross pin was awarded at graduation.

Caps were presented without fanfare and, as late as 1925, student probationers went to bed capless and woke in the morning to find the hard-earned caps on their night tables. If there was no cap to be found, the girl quietly packed her bags and went home.

During the roaring twenties, Holy students weren't exactly allowed to roar - but their hems were raised to eight inches from the floor. Shoes, either black or white, with Mary Jane straps could be worn on duty, and caps were now slightly winged.

Long hair was still de rigueur. A student entering with short hair was required to wear a switch and net until her own hair grew, and then it was not to be cut during her three-year training period. Students who went on a hair cutting spree in 1926 were severely disciplined and allowed to remain only if they promised to let their tresses grow again. It was a bitter defeat for girls living in the days of flappers and bobbed hair.

One method of discipline, used through the years, was to confiscate a student's cap if she had made a silly mistake; major mistakes weren't tolerated. As the cap was symbolic of maturity and professionalism, students found this particular degrading and embarrassing punishment.

In 1922, for the first time, red and gold Semper Fidelis pins were presented at half-time. Six months later, seniors received black velvet ribbons to put on their caps. The class of 1923 was the first to order School rings - an oval gold face with H + H on it. The next class chose black onyx with gold letters.



bobbed hair

In 1926 Students were severely disciplined if they cut their hair

All students wore their long hair "up", and were forbidden to cut it.

Enter the thirties. The caps now had a square crown and wings folded close to the head. High collars were replaced by v-necks, and skirts finally moved up, to fourteen inches from the floor. White shoes were now mandatory and, for the first time, uniforms were issued by the hospital. Each day, when students gathered for morning prayers, they were inspected to be sure they were wearing full uniform. This included a watch, scissors, hypo set and thermometer.

The School pin was changed without warning in 1935 and dismayed graduates received a new, smaller gold cross encircled by the words Holy Cross School of Nursing. In 1937, a change in policy allowed students to cut their hair. Many made a beeline for the nearest barber shop and returned fashionably shorn. A smaller version of the cap still worn by 1979 grads perched on the stylish new haircuts, its wider wings adding to the perky effect.

The advent of WWII brought a shortage of cotton fabric, so bulky bibs and aprons were discarded in favour of a fitted, long-sleeved, button-down-the- front dress. The uniform ended at mid-calf and had a pointed collar, narrow belt and two pockets. A scarcity of stockings prompted enterprising students to mend holes in their heels with adhesive tape. In an emergency, the versatile tape could also be used to hold those same stocking up.

In the mid-forties, attractive navy melton capes lined with scarlet and emblazoned with gold H+H on the collars were purchased by incoming students. These covered the uniform for public appearances. However, rules stated that uniforms were not to be worn on the street, except when the student body was representing the School at an official ceremony, so the capes got little use until after their owners had graduated.

In 1947, at the Fortieth Anniversary Celebration of the School, the first capping ceremony, under the direction of Sister Lapierre, was held. During the ceremony, each student lit a candle from a single large one and recited the Florence Nightingale Pledge.

Capping 1954

Candle lighting and capping 1954

Women were still expected to cover their heads while in the chapel in the 1950's, and Catholic probies were issued with white "beanies" to wear until their caps were earned. The capping ceremony now moved into the chapel, with a processional march, chaplain's address and recitation of the Nightingale Pledge. Uniforms were short-sleeved with Peter Pan collars; students had name pins, and rank could readily be determined by checking for an intermediate or senior pin. Each class designed its own unique intermediate pin from 1940 to 1955.

The classes of 1952 were the first to go back into bib and apron, which were worn over a blue and white striped, short-sleeved dress. Once again, mornings became a battle with starched collars, belts, buttons and pins. Small gold crosses held the starched, winged cap together, and Semper Fidelis cufflinks were worn in the cuff of grad uniforms.

The 1956 class was proud to wear the navy blazer, white blouse and grey skirt that were its "civies". The neatly groomed students of the late '50s and '60s looked impressively collegiate in class.


Pins

The senior Semper Fidelis pin was mounted on the bar for the 1958 class, and the original, plain gold cross pin was re-introduced. The School was highly regarded in this era and, in 1964, seventy-six students, largest class ever, celebrated graduation.

Capping Ceremony 1955
Capping Ceremony circa 1955

In the '60s, the last capping ceremony took place. Short-sleeved nylon uniforms were issued to replace the bib and apron and in 1969 the probation period was eliminated. Caps were simply handed out on admission to the School. Finishing students had a bonfire in the residence barbeque pit and burned their blazers and skirts. And they'd been so popular just fifteen years before!

The one-piece, white nylon uniform was standard and caps were removed from the dress code in 1977. Pant suits were added and classroom attire included denim.

In the final days of the School, uniform policy was left to the discretion of the individual. Only hair, which had to be neatly groomed and two inches above the collar at the back of the neck, was regulated.

The Holy Cross School of Nursing ended with its final graduation in May 1979. The sixteen young women graduated in long-sleeved, polyester dresses, and caps with black bands. The male graduate wore a white, short-sleeved suit. All received the coveted gold cross pin symbolic of the three enriching years they had spent at Holy Cross.

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