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.