1841 to 1890
In the first few decades of the Adelaide hospital the female staff were married to men employed at the hospital, female duties were of domestic and housekeeping skills rather than nursing. Male staff were given the duties of attending to male patients, building maintenance and labouring tasks. In the 1840’s Mrs Baye was performing nursing duties for female patients, her husband was employed as the cook. Later Mrs Johanna Briggs, married to the Hospital Dispenser (pharmacist) was fulfilling the role of nurse, her skills attained from domestic duties and child raising.
In 1849 the Colonial Surgeon recommended that the role of Mrs Briggs be changed to Matron to establish more authority by her over the female patients, bedding and domestic work.
The first formal training program for nurses was not established in Britain until 1860, St. Thomas’s Hospital, The Nightingale School of Nursing. It was not until 1870 that the first trained nurses, perhaps newly arrived in Adelaide, already trained in England, started at Adelaide Hospital. The uniform of the nurse of this era followed the style of a domestic servant; white cap and a full length, white bib, apron over their long skirts.
1890 to 1930
Having sailed together from England to Australia in 1889, two friends and both British trained Nursing Sisters applied for positions at Adelaide Hospital. Miss Maude Thackthwaite was employed as Matron and Miss Margaret Burke as Superintendent of Night Nurses at Adelaide Hospital from 1889 until 1891.
Matron Thackthwaite was a graduate of the London Hospital and introduced strict uniform standards for Adelaide Hospital based on the British nursing uniform. A difference were the style of caps, long streamers were introduced to identify Matron and senior Nurses.
Following the British nursing system, the new trainee nurse completed a three month probationary period, whereby the probationer wore a plain dress, often black, before being accepted for further years of training and employment. The probationers became known as “Black Pros”, a name that become traditional for decades to identify a nurse during her training years.
Adelaide Hospital adopted a fine check, red and white, woven cotton cloth material for student nurses. Matron and senior nurses worn a dark coloured cotton material in their uniform dresses.
This photograph of trainee nurses illustrates the uniform of this era.
The cap is a folded long rectangle with a narrow gathered material frill, pinned to the hair.
The chatelaine hanging from the belt on the seated nurse contains tools used at bedside during nursing duties.
The wearing of a brooch or a plain button to fasten the removable starched collar varies. After a nurse had her certificate she was able to register with the Royal British Nurses Association, the association bar brooch often then worn on the collar instead.
Social etiquette of the era determined that a suitable uniform for nurses leaving the grounds was introduced. The “walking out” uniform for nursing staff, also introduced by Matron Thackthwaite, was worn until the early 1910’s. The uniform was a black cap with streamers and wide white fine material bands for tying under the chin, with a long black cape to cover the nurses dress.
This photograph, taken in 1910, is of Alice Jackson in her walking out uniform over her nurse uniform. The pendant hanging on her neck-chain is of the shape of the Maltese Cross, gold medals similar to this were presented to the student who achieved first class passes in their examinations. If so, then Nurse Jackson had just graduated and this photo, taken with her nieces Lorna and Connie Gill, would be to commemorate the occasion. Nurses could start training after the age of 21, however some started training in their late 20′s.
Once the nurse graduated from training, a position was sought in one of the private nursing hospitals, Hutt Street, Wakefield, Ru Rua, or Nursing Agencies assisted with trained staff to gain positions as Nurse in private residences. In the early 1900′s there were few openings for registered nurses in Adelaide Hospital after the nurses had completed their certificates.
Charge Nurses 1890 to 1930
The term ‘Charge Nurse’ was given to nurses employed to take charge of the wards, oversee Probationer and Pupil nurses. In 1889 there were 27 nurses at the hospital, of whom 8 were Charge Nurses. The Charge Nurse uniform was a long length red and white check cotton dress with long sleeves. The starched white collar and cuffs were separate pieces, pinned into place, removable for ease of laundering. The long apron was white with a bib front, with wide shoulder pieces that then crossed over at the back, fastened with white shank buttons at the back waist band.
In 1902 the Charge Nurse cap was styled with two streamers attached to the back of the white frilled edge cone cap. This assisted with identifying the trained nurse from a training Probationer nurse.
In the mid 1900’s the cap style for Charge Nurse was changed to a deep brimmed cap, tied into place with white ribbon. This 1914 photograph of Charge Nurse Henrietta Perrin, with the new style cap, was taken in her new uniform after graduating in 1914. Nurse Perrin volunteered for duty with the Australian Imperial Forces during World War 1.
1930 to 1960
The basic uniform colour for Probationer (trainee or student) Nurse remained the pink-red and white cotton check dress, buttoned front with short sleeves. The separate detachable white collar and cuffs were lightly starched. The nurse attached the collars and cuffs to her uniform with safety pins, before putting on the dress.
The cap style changed to a simple rectangle folded into a cone shape and held in place with white hair pins. The dress length rose to mid-calf by the 1920’s, gradually shortening to below the knee level.
During the 1950’s the addition of a blued chevron embroidered on white cloth badge was introduced to assist identification of the year level of Student Nurse.
In the 1950′s this brochure was given to the new pupil nurse, along with three yards of red and white check material, yard of white cotton material, to have their uniforms made before the training started.
The neckline shape changed from high to open round and then peaked shirt style. The apron style remained unchanged, straps which extended from the top of the bib shoulder crossed over at the back to fasten at the waist with shank buttons. Black shoes and stockings had to be worn.
In 1939 the Royal decree name change to Royal Adelaide Hospital brought about the changes to the hospital identification and badges. “A.H.” cloth badges on the capes were changed to “R.A.H.”.
In 1946 the South Australian Government Hospital’s Department appointed Olive Kestel as Staff Matron of government funded hospitals. One of her first actions was to clarify the terms used to describe the two main group of nurses in South Australian hospitals. The term “Charge Nurse” was replaced with “Ward Sister”. The term “Probationer” was replaced with the title “Trainee Nurse”. “Probationer” was retained for the nurse within the first three months of their appointment.
Student Nurse working at the bedside, c1960
In 1937, a new role for Staff Nurses was established and this photographed group of twenty four recently qualified Registered Nurses were among the first appointed. Their duties were senior roles on the wards, to oversee the work of the Probationer Nurses, Trainee Nurses and take instruction from the Ward Charge Sister.
The Staff Nurse uniform was of blue and white check material, in the similar style of the training nurse uniform, a button through shift dress with belt and white shank buttons from neck to hem. Two external pockets were sewn at hip height. The cape was red woolen woven fabric, the style varied over the decades with the hem length and embroidered badge.
Detachable starched collar and cuffs were attached with safety pins. This uniform was worn with a white starched cap with a deep turned-back brim, made up with two white shank buttons and attached with two hair clips. The nurse had a choice of wearing fawn stockings and brown shoes or white stockings and white shoes.
The Charge Nurse uniform was a long-sleeved coat dress of fawn ‘holland’ fabric with a belt and a detachable white starched collar. The sleeves were fastened at the wrists using cuff-links. A white starched cap with a long turned-back brim (commonly called a “coal-scuttle” and later a “shovel-cap”) was fastened by a tape or ribbon passed under the chin and then tied in a bow in front of one ear. This uniform was worn with white shoes and stockings. A traditional sister’s elbow length cape of red woolen fabric could be worn when not at the bedside.
The first Supervisory Sisters were senior Registered Nurses, who had management responsibilities over a group of wards or departments. The first Supervisory Sisters wore the traditional fawn-coloured Registered Nurse uniform dress. Tutor Sisters and Home Sisters also wore the fawn uniform.
Matron and senior nursing staff wore white uniforms, in the style of their personal choice.
Matron Graham wore a hemmed square offset veil after 1919 and this was the preferred head-piece for Matrons until the 1970′s.
1960 to 1990
A 1970 amendment to the Nursing Act changed the term of “Trainee” nurse to “Student Nurse”.
‘Trainee” became the term for “Enrolled Nurse” during their training period.
The uniform for a Trainee Enrolled Nurse in this era was a light blue material, belted shift style dress. The Enrolled Nurse cap had a turned-back brim, during training the cap had a red stripe, after enrollment the red stripe was no longer on the cap. This uniform was required to be worn with brown shoes and stockings.
For Student Nurses the white starched apron was discarded in the early 1970’s. Another change was to produce the pink check uniform with a white stitched-on cotton collar and cuffs, polyester cotton replacing the all-cotton material of previous eras. After a period of time the pink check uniform was replaced by a fine pink striped dress. During this era nurses were issued with a name badge which was to be worn on the left side of the front of the bodice.
In the late 1970’s the white student nurse’s cap was discarded, after 1977 black stockings were optional. Another item of clothing approved for wear on night duty, or in the classroom, was a long-sleeved, round-necked pink windcheater.
The Registered Nurse uniform underwent changes; a white dress for females was introduced with a zip or button fastening down the front. This style had three-quarter length sleeves and a white belt with white buttons. To identify a first year Registered Nurse, a green velvet band was adhered to the cap.
Male student nurses wore white polyester cotton material short sleeved, high necked, shoulder buttoned tunic top, “Ben Casey” style, with white long trouser pants, black shoes and socks. A dark blue blazer could be worn when not at the bedside.
This 1990 photograph illustrates the variety of uniforms of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. The Director of Nursing, Rosemary Bryant, is in a red suit. The nursing staff members are required to be in uniform, Registered Nurses in white uniforms, some with light blue vests. Senior nursing staff in white uniforms with blue blazers. Student nurses in pink uniforms.
The Heritage Office thank Dr J. Durdin and Ms J. Cottle for their extensive cataloguing of uniforms worn at Royal Adelaide Hospital and their valuable work and dedication to the Heritage Office. Kind regards to Ms B Parker for the extensive catalogue of photographic images of the Heritage Office.
For further information on the history of nursing uniforms worn at Royal Adelaide Hospital and nursing education, see Eleven Thousand Nurses by Joan Durdin.