A nursing cap

  • a white, oval headdress, with 2 cm wide horizontal ribbon – black for nurses, red for midwives,
  • a type of a cap (usually white) used mostly by women of a few professions…, usually to cover hairs hygienically,
  • "feminine headdress made of linen or percale, usually white, tied, often frilled (Słownik współczesnego języka polskiego, 2001).

A cap is also an element of a dress of many feminine religious convents. Caps were worn with veils, round or of a butterfly shape. First caps covered whole head, covering it against dust. They have begun to be modified soon (however, stayed always white).

  • 1876 — first caps, Bellevue hospital (the United States)
  • 1911 — round caps with veils, School for Professional Nurses run by St. Vincent à Paulo Convent in Cracow
  • 1921 — butterfly caps, Warsaw Nursing School, the Polish Red Cross School for Nurses in Poznań
  • 1991 — caps replaced by identifiers, left only in ceremonial uniforms

Nursing caps were used first time in Poland in the School for Professional Nurses run by St. Vincent à Paulo Convent in Cracow, in 1911.  It was a round cap with a small facing, in ceremonial uniforms covered with a dark-blue veil. Caps of other schools differed in details: height of facing, its finishing (sharp, oval, etc.); they informed the public about school affiliation, were subjects of pride.

Levels of professional initiation were revealed by adding following symbols and signs of caps – velvet stripes of different width and placing, sometimes a school badge. The graduates received caps with wide, horizontal, velvet stripe – black for nurses, red for midwives, dark-blue for nutritionists).

The University School for Nurses and Hygienists in Cracow (1925-1931) and the Polish Red Cross Nursing School in Warsaw (1929-1944) introduced round, batiste, crinkle, buttoned caps covering whole head. Warsaw and Poznań (1921) Schools introduced caps with facing around the whole head, so called butterflies.  Students (nowadays – students of 2nd year) received caps during the special “cap awarding ceremony”, as a symbol of finishing the first stage of professional education.

Adding stripes (ribbons) to caps has military backgrounds, and informs about one’s range in a professional group – a student or a registered nurse. A velvet ribbon comes from a privilege of wearing velvet cap given by Maria Medici queen of France to Luoise Bourgeois Doursier (1563-1636), a midwife. A cap awarding ceremony have become an important tradition in Poland, expected both by students and teachers, with special rites and scenarios (Łukasz K., 1983).

A right of wearing caps as a professional symbol was regulated by the Ministry of Health Statement on February 8th, 1950. However, a cap’s role has been often discussed. A duty of wearing caps was deleted by the Nurses and Midwives Chamber Turing it’s 1st National Assembly (Statement on professional identifiers of nurses and midwives on December 12th, 1990). Many patients are against these decisions, as they feel being deprived of a clear sign of persons they may expect help from. Finally, caps have only a symbolic value and are replaced with badges – mini-caps sticked to uniforms.

A cap meaning

  • symbolic: humility and readiness to serve other people; in folk culture a woman’s status – married, widow; also a sign of a profession,
  • functional: protection, hair cover.

A nurse cap as a professional symbol can be found in books, manuals, journals, as a logo part of nursing organizations. It accompanies important events and ceremonies – students’ contests, competitions, professional days.

Elaboration: Krystyna Wolska-Lipiec