Nurses Capes

Historically, nurse’s capes were both symbolic as well as practical.  They were a standard part of a nurse’s uniform and although mainly worn in winter months, they allowed the nurse to move freely and keep uniforms clean underneath. 

Royal Adelaide Hospital

Registered Nurse’s (known as either a Charge Nurse or Sister) at the Adelaide Hospital, first began wearing capes in the middle to late 1920s.  This was the era when the hospital nurses uniform began to change from the floor length, mutton sleeve uniform to a much shorter, long-sleeved coat dress of fawn holland fabric.

Usually, the cape was of a traditional elbow length and made of red woollen fabric.  It was not worn at the bedside or on the ward, but at all other times within and outside the hospital.

The cape was fastened with a metal hook-and-eye at the collar. It included a classic style peaked folding-down collar and mock epaulettes sewn over the shoulder seams.  An embroidered cloth badge of cream, red and blue with ‘AH’ (Adelaide Hospital) sewn on the lower left front.  This badge is from 1920 to pre-1939, before the hospital was given its ‘Royal’ prefix.

Sisters Cape, Ca 1925. This cape belongs to the Ingleby Collection – five women, who over three generations, trained at Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Farewell to Matron Maxfield, 1946.  Nursing staff on the steps of the Nurses’ Home (Margaret Graham Building). They are gathered to farewell retired Matron Jessie Maxfield as she leaves Australia for England.
Sisters Cape, Ca 1945. A machine-embroidered circular badge ‘RAH’ is sewn on the lower left front of the cape. This belonged to P Fitzgerald, who graduated in 1945. 

Student Nurses/Probationers

Prior to the introduction of student nurses capes in 1946, a ‘Probationer’ would receive a red cape without the Royal Adelaide Hospital badge.  When they graduated, the new Sister was then allowed to place the hospital badge on the cape indicating that they were now a Sister.

Exam time:  Royal Adelaide Hospital Probationer Nurses on the steps of Mitchell Building, University of Adelaide. 1939.  As the student nurses haven’t passed the exams yet, there is no RAH badge embroidered on their capes.

In the 1946, the hospital introduced a dark navy wool cape for student nurses or probationers.  Very similar to the Sisters cape in style, it was lined with a red woollen material.  The cape was worn over the Probationer pink and white check uniform.  Unlike the Sister’s cape, the embroidered RAH badge was not sewn onto the cape.

Frequently these capes were owned by multiple trainee nurses; as one nurse graduated, she passed or sold it onto a new recruit.  Many capes in the collection show evidence of several names being present on the label, often crossed out or another name written over the top.

Three student nurse capes, ca 1981

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital

When The Queen Elizabeth Hospital opened in 1954, similar style capes to the Royal Adelaide Hospital were introduced.  The main difference was that these capes were embroidered with TQEH badge. Consisting of a red Tudor rose, surrounded by a blue fleur-de-lis; written around it ‘The Queen Elizabeth Hospital – Pettimus Docemus, Curamus’ (we seek, we teach, we heal).

Enrolled Nurse

From 1970 until mid-1990, both Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital ran Enrolled Nurse Education Courses.  Enrolled nurses at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre (under Royal Adelaide Hospital Board of Management) were required to wear a grey wool cape with a red lining.   Later they were allowed to wear a navy cape similar to a student nurse cape, but with the RAH badge embroidered onto the front.

Enrolled Nurses Cape Ca 970

The shape and style of all the capes at Royal Adelaide Hospital, Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, did not change over the years. 

With the introduction of male nurses in 1965, only female nurses wore capes.  By mid 1980s, the cape was being replaced by windcheaters, providing a unisex uniform for both men and women. 

Written by Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum