Not every medical patent relates directly to treatment or medicine. Any invention you want to protect needs a patent, whether it’s a pacemaker or – in this case – a better-fitting nurse’s uniform.
Baltimore’s Morris & Co was founded by Edward Morris in 1867 as a men’s underwear manufacturer. The company moved into production of men’s shirts and overalls, and soon added women’s clothing as well, including the “Middy” blouse under their Paul Jones label.
By the late 1920s, Morris & Co. had moved away from ‘everyday’ clothes and began producing women’s work uniforms, aprons, and housecoats, again under the Paul Jones name. Though styles were made for beauticians, maids, and waitresses, nurses’ uniforms became the company’s specialty. Early in World War I, the United States government adopted the company’s navy nurse uniform design as the standard.
The company offered a several different material and color options, as well as a variety of styles with different collars, belts, fastenings (front, back and side), sleeve lengths, &c., &c. Hoping to appeal to as many women as possible, they kept an eye on both practicality (sturdy fabrics, ease of laundering) and fashion (flared or straight skirts, rising waistlines and hemlines), making changes and adding new details when necessary.
Some of these innovations were patentable. In 1932, Oscar A. Berman of Baltimore obtained U.S. Patent 1,885,047 for “an improvement in nurses’ uniforms of the wrap-around style,” and assigned the rights to Morris & Co. The new invention was intended “(1) to provide a uniform that will fit any figure; (2) to provide means by which a uniform can be made adjustable to fit women with large or small busts, large or small waists, or large or small hips, by simply drawing toward each other the ends of a belt permanently attached to the body of the garment; and (3) to provide a means by which the uniform can be held permanently at the adjustment necessary for the figure on which it is worn.”
Morris & Co. used this improved fastening on both the “Miracle” nurses’ uniform and, with more enthusiasm, the “Magicoat” housecoat, available in a number of different styles and prints. Both can be found in the Spring-Summer 1934 Paul Jones Uniform Dresses catalog:
Berman’s description of his invention, quoted above, was clearly sufficient for the U.S. Patent Office, but wholesale and retail customers of Morris & Co. needed a bit more to convince them of the value of an easy-fitting dress. The Miracle uniform comes across somewhat prosaically in the 1934 catalog (“Fits every figure. Slips on like a coat. Can be worn either high or low neck”), but the Magicoat, designed to appeal to a variety of women both at work and at home, warrants a bit more:
“Little wonder Magicoat has created a sensation among women in all walks of life. Trim-fitting, fresh-looking and smart for household duties. Ideal, all-purpose garment for thousands of professional women. Paul Jones Magicoats are made in all white, in vat-dyed blue and green with various collars and cuffs and in attractive prints. They launder perfectly. Leading stores everywhere are featuring Magicoats – America’s smartest, most practical garment for everyday wear.
- Fits every figure – adjusts automatically to bust, waist and hip size.
- Doesn’t just hang straight – it’s cut to fit.
- Wraps away over to side – will not gap.
- Reversible front with two patch pockets – stays clean longer.
- Deep, flat hem – easy to lengthen or shorten.
- No buttons to break or come off – no danger of losing belt.
- Spreads out flat for easy ironing.
- Slips on or off easily as a coat without mussing hair or garment.
Magicoat is a patented garment and the name MAGICOAT is registered in the U.S. Pat.Office.”
Thanks to the family, the JMM has a large Morris & Co collection covering the 1890s through the 1907s, including catalogs, advertisements, correspondence, patent and trademark documents, and even a few nurses’ uniforms – but, alas, no Miracles or Magicoats. How will we get our husband on the 8:15 train without one?
Post by JMM Collections Manager Joanna Church.
Standing at the ready behind the nurses’ station is a dress-form displaying a white uniform dress and a blue wool cape, both worn by nurses at Sinai Hospital, Baltimore. Here’s a little more about the women who owned these pieces.
The uniform belonged to Isabelle M. Heyman Laub, R.N., member of the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing class of 1947. This starched white cotton dress with detached collar was made by Stein Uniform Co. of Baltimore; Nurse Laub added her name to the inside collar, probably so the correct uniform would be returned to her by the hospital laundry, and affixed an understated collar brooch and a Sinai Hospital pin to the dress.
The cape is of a slightly older vintage. It belonged to Ruth J. Herondorf Wohl, R.N., Sinai Hospital School of Nursing class of 1942; her initials are embroidered over the left inside pocket. It is made of heavy wool, dark blue with a gold lining; the stiff collar is embroidered “SH” on both sides. Like the dress, it was made locally by the Stein Uniform Company.
After graduation, Nurse Herondorf received a scholarship to continue her studies at Columbia University. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in 1945, when she was 24 years old. She was discharged a little over a year later, and went back to working at Sinai. She married Dr. Milton Wohl in 1947.
Like most uniforms, those worn by nurses – whether a long blue dress, colorful scrubs, or something in between – serve both a practical and a symbolic purpose. The attire should present a professional, standardized, and identifiable appearance… without interfering with the wearers’ physical duties. Nursing uniforms of the 19th and 20th centuries were based on a common vocabulary – dress, cap, apron, cape – with variances of color and décor to indicate the school and/or hospital in which the nurse was working, and the nurse’s professional level. A visitor to Beyond Chicken Soup, for example, commented that the shape of the starched white Sinai cap on display was familiar to her, but that her mother’s cap of similar vintage had included a blue band around the edge, indicative of another nursing school. Sinai nursing students wore light blue dresses with white collars and cuffs, while graduates wore the white dress that we have on display. Images of early 20th century nurses often show them in similar blue capes, but with different colored linings, and collar decorations specific to the nursing program.
You can read more about nurses’ uniforms at the National Library of Medicine’s website – A Universal Code:Nurse Uniforms of All Nations
Post by Collections Manager Joanna Church.
Lillian Wald was born on March 10, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio, into a German-Jewish family. In 1878, her family moved to Rochester, New York, where she soon attended New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. She graduated in 1891, and began medical school at the Woman’s Medical College.
In 1893, Wald left medical school and began teaching nursing classes for poor families at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. She soon began caring for residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a visiting nurse, and soon after she founded the Henry Street Settlement. The organization provided health care services to New Yorkers, as well as social services and arts programs. The Henry Street Settlement still operates today, but has expanded to several buildings and locations since it was founded.
By 1913, the Henry Street Settlement had 92 staff members. While continuing to work at the Settlement, Wald started the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, a service that brought healthcare to the homes of those in need.
Lillian Wald supported a number of worthy causes. She advocated for putting nurses in public schools, and suggested a national health insurance plan. She assisted in founding the Columbia University School of Nursing, as well as the NAACP, and helped lead the National Child Labor Committee, a group that encouraged the implementation of child labor laws.
Wald died in 1940 at the age of 73. In 1970 she was elected into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans for her humanitarian acts throughout her life.
About her life:
- Lillian Wald http://www.henrystreet.org/about/history/lillian-wald.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/?referrer=http://www.henrystreet.org/about/history/lillian-wald.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/
- Lillian Wald https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillian_Wald
About the Visiting Nurse Service of New York:
About the Henry Street Settlement:
- Henry Street Settlement https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Street_Settlement
- The House on Henry Street by Lillian Wald https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=gNYJAAAAIAAJ&rdid=book-gNYJAAAAIAAJ&rdot=1