Return to Menu Symbol of a Profession: One Hundred Years of Nurses' Caps

The Importance of a Nurse's Cap

My reason for forming this collection of nurses' caps is perhaps best epitomized in a remark made by a nurse when she was donating her cap: "My son is 22 years old and he has never seen a nurse wearing a cap." Fortunately many nurses have had them tucked away carefully for years. They too perceived the need to preserve this most valued symbol of their professional uniform.

Worn since the days of Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimea (1854-1856) and at the school of nursing named after her in 1860 at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, I felt that it would be sad to see this proud nursing tradition disappear without some effort at preservation.

For the nurse, her cap had been the most significant identifying aspect of her uniform, denoting not only her occupation, but giving evidence of her education and graduation, as well as the school that she had attended. In addition the cap is historically the most widely recognized symbol of a nurse to patients, their families, hospital personnel, and visitors.

While the collection has been in process of formation, letters have been received from many non-nurses who also mourn the loss of this identifying feature of "a nurse," symbolizing knowledge, comfort and caring.

When caps began to disappear in the 1970s, I began asking myself why somebody didn't do something to commemorate them. Eventually it occurred to me that I had as much responsibility as anyone to undertake this. As a result I have had contact with many enthusiastic nurses and help from many non-nurses, such as friends, nurses' relatives, librarians, and many others including my husband and my sister. I express my gratitude to them all and wish to acknowledge their help publicly.

Forming this collection has been both a remarkable and an uplifting experience for me.

This collection is dedicated to nurses everywhere, with special tribute to those whose caps make it a reality. Finally it is hoped that younger nurses who now follow our vocation may be stimulated to learn about their profession's history and traditions.

Gloria (Barwell) Kay, RN, MScN, November, 2000
1951 Graduate of the Toronto East General and Orthopaedic Hospital


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