Nursing Conundrum

When I found this carte de visite, I thought for sure I’d be able to find out more about the nurses’ uniforms, as well as information concerning the photography studio (Ward in Stanton, Massachusetts).  I have to say, I’m completely stumped.  This hasn’t happened to me yet, and I’m quite annoyed about it.


Usually when I start a research project, I type in various phrases on the item in question to see what pops up. Then I sift through a bunch of different websites, look for ebooks, or check to see if my local library has anything worth checking out.  While researching this photograph, though, I have to say that the history on nursing uniforms prior to 1950 is lacking.  Sure, there’s a smattering of websites and blog posts here and there, but nothing really in depth.

Besides this complication though, it’s still a really interesting photograph.  Judging by their uniforms, I’m guessing it was taken before 1890, and here’s why:

Fashion changed so much within a short period of time during the late 1800s to the early 1900s, that a researcher could easily identify a date based on the size of skirt, pinched waist, size of sleeves, size of a bustle, and even on the size of the bust.  Unfortunately for us, all we can focus on in this carte-de-visite are the size of the women’s sleeves, and their small busts.   Sleeves and busts post 1890s tended to flare upward and outward, so the women looked like fluffed-up mother hens, at least until the mid to late 1900s to 1915s, where the outfits took on sleeker lines, paving the way for the boyish silhouettes seen in the 1920s.

1890s Fashion Plate

Neither women wear the red cross armband, which was associated with nursing after 1882.  When I was first researching, I thought maybe these women were training as nurses for the Spanish American War, since their uniforms were similar to ones seen in this photograph:

Nurses during the Spanish American War

Nurses during the Spanish American War

But even their sleeves are just a tad bit puffier than the women in my photograph.  One cool thing about early nursing uniforms during this process is that they felt a full uniform helped deter the spread of diseases.  Women wore high collared outfits with long buttoned sleeves.  Their dresses ended at the ankle and were slightly shorter than dresses at the time, since they needed to move around a ward quickly.


Either way, I still enjoy this photograph and the mystery surrounding it.  I wonder if they wanted to send this carte de visite to their families?  Perhaps it was too expensive on their meager pay to pose individually?  Or maybe it was just a similar situation as today, where they each wanted a photo with their best friend? Just on the more expensive, professional level, of course.

I’m sure there are specialists who would be able to point me to the correct collections with similar images; however, at this time, I can’t be bothered with it.  Perhaps I’ll revisit these lovely ladies later.  Do any of you guys have any suggestions or knowledge on early nursing uniforms?



Filed under Photograph

2 responses to “Nursing Conundrum

  1. Jim

    Hey ashley 🙂 given the background was a home setting, there were no distinguisable markings, and their dresses are very long unlike nursing uniforms, I began pulling house maid uniform images up and there a bunch of pictures online that more closly resemble your picture than the nurses that I found. Could be worth checking out.

    • Hey Jim! Thanks for the comment! At first, I thought these girls might have been servants as well, but early nursing uniforms were very similar. The biggest difference were the color of the uniforms. Maids often wore a black dress with a white apron, whereas nurses often wore a more form fitted striped front button-down dress with an apron. As far as the backdrop is concerned, it was common for people to go to a photography studio to have a portrait done, where the photographer had a painted backdrop with props set up already for the sitter. It was probably very rare for someone to be photographed in a house, as the photographer would have to lug a bunch of very heavy equipment on the back of a horse drawn carriage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s