I wrote the following
article in 1992 and I believe that it is still relevant although my
understanding of the field has greatly increased. Rather than altering
the article I have added this brief introduction and update notes -
numbered in the main text.
I have recently acquired a
Liverpool Nurse Training School Medal which is hall marked 1876 –
apparently hundreds of them had been issued by 1893.
The St. Bartholomew’s
Medal, donated by the Cloth Workers, is indeed made of gold.
I am now certain that the
badge I have is from the City of London Sick Asylum.
Christs Hospital is not a
hospital but a school.
The UKCC has now been
superceded by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Their
contains scant details and even then only for those currently
Finally, my collection is
now very much larger and I am busily producing a fully illustrated
catalogue which should be available early next year. I am also making
steady progress with my book on hospitals and badges which could also be
available next year (although I started work on this in 2006).
||1. General Nursing
Council for England &
2. St Thomas Hospital
3. Medico psychological Association (Mental
4. Royal Medico Psychological Association
5. Royal College of Nursing
6. Royal College of Nursing
7. Association of Radical Midwives
8. Cardiganshire County Nursing Association
9. Queens Nursing Institute
10. Lincolnshire County Nursing Association
11. The London Temperance Hospital
12. Christes Hospital (Note Spelling)
13. Clacton District Hospital
14. Manchester Royal Infirmary Good Samaritans
15. Stockport School of Nursing
16. South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital
17. Lancaster District School of Nursing
18. G.H.N. General Hospital Nottingham
19. League of St Bartholomew's Hospital
20. St Mary Islington Infirmary
21. Gwynedd Welsh Midwifery Badge (Can you translate
YSBYTY Dewi Sant?
22. Portsmouth School of Midwifery
23 Sister Dora School of Nursing Walsall. Friend of
Nursing Badges and Medals
Have you ever seen the television series 'Casualty' or the television
news and noticed that the nurses are often wearing badges? These badges
have a little known history going back to the second half of the 19th
century. It is not known, for example, when and where the first nursing
badge was issued - nor who received it.
Researching the history of nurses badges (and for convenience I will
include medals in this term from now on) can be very frustrating. In
many books on the history of nursing or the history of particular
hospitals or groups, there is often only a passing reference to the
nurses training school and whether they issued badges or not; very
seldom does one find a badge illustrated in the book with details of
dates, design and material.
These hospital histories are written mainly by doctors who often ignore
the fact nurses, porters, kitchen staff, etc. are all vital in the
running of any hospital. Often when a hospital is closed - whether
demolished or amalgamated with others - the most enduring thing about it
is the badges which were issued to nurses at the end of their training.
Many times I have pored over old photographs of nurses with a magnifying
glass trying to make out the details of the badges they are wearing -
often with little success.
The ‘powers that be’ in the nursing profession have a curious attitude
to the badges issued to trained nurses. The General Nursing Council (now
defunct) expected that when a nurse died their relatives or executors
would send back the badge issued by the Council. This may explain in
part, why it is difficult to come across groups or pairs of badges for
the same person.
It sometimes went further than that. Last year I was talking to a
Nightingale (a nurse who was trained in St. Thomas's Hospital, London).
She said that when nurses were presented with their medals in the 1950's
they were told that their badges should be buried with them!
The General Nursing Council seem to have a thing about personation (one
person pretending to be another) and about hospitals being satisfied
that a person is trained if they have a nursing badge. They have been
known when approached by an unsuspecting collector asking for
information to demand the badges back saying that they are their
property - they did pay compensation but it did break up several pairs
(I consider that a pair or group of badges presented to the same person
are more interesting than a single badge).
This body has now been succeeded by the United Kingdom Central Council
for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC). They hold registers
of all nurses trained in the United Kingdom since 1921. However they
will not divulge the training place of a nurse even if she was trained
60 years ago (I unsuccessfully tried to find this out only recently)(5).
Nurses badges were not only issued by central training organisation such
as the GNC and the (Royal) Medico Psychological Society but also by such
professional organisations such as the Royal College of Nursing (the RCN
have issued a wide variety of badges over the years). Other modern
organisations such as the Association of Radical Midwives also issue
Many District Nursing organisations prior to 1948 issued their own
badges - examples include Cardigan and Lincolnshire. The umbrella
organisation for district nurses -now called the Queen's Institute of
District Nursing - has also issued a variety of different badges under
its different names.
The earliest documented nurses badge that I have come across is a
Liverpool Nurse Training School Medal
(1). Honor Morton, author of the book
'How to become a Nurse' - published c 1896, says that this badge was first
issued by the Royal Infirmary on 18 January, 1862. The badge was lent to
the probationer after a month's trial and she was allowed to keep it
after completing her three year training.
Another early item is the St. Bartholomew's (London) Gold Medal which,
again according to Honnor Martin, was awarded every April and October to
the probationer who was first in the final examination. She tells us that
it was first presented in 1885 and was made possible by the generosity
of the Cloth workers Company of London.
Be warned though, 'gold' medals often turn out to be silver gilt (I do
not know if this applies to the Bartholomew's medal above)(2). Many
hospitals gave out one gold medal a
year. Some, such as the
London Temperance Hospital gave
out gold, silver and bronze
medals - bronze after passing
the end of second year examinations, silver after passing the third year examinations (and also a certificate) with the best of year nurse receiving a gold medal instead and being then called the gold medalist.
The word 'hospital' used to have a much wider
meaning than now. My husband once bought me a really lovely gold hallmarked badge from Christ's Hospital - it turned out that this was a school(3). I have another badge for another Christ's Hospital founded by Peter Symonds in 1607 which I suspect is an alms house(4).
Modern badges are usually made of base metal -
chrome or brass. They have
little engraving but can still
have enameling with several
different colours (a lot of Scottish badges however are still made of silver). The use of
mottos- whether in
Latin or English have also
gone out of fashion. In this
age of economies, a lot of training schools and, indeed, the UKCC itself no longer issue badges to nurses on completion of their training.
As a result of this shortsightedness, I suspect that a nurses badge is not
such a prized possession as it was some 20 years ago.
Favourite subjects for decorating badges are: a Red Cross, a Roman Lamp and the Good Samaritan. The Royal College of Heraldry considers that the Roman Lamp is the
symbol of the nursing profession. Another common theme is the Rod of Aesculapius - that is, two
snakes entwined round a staff. Aesculapius was the Greek god of healing.
Sometimes local landmarks or part of a local coat of arms are shown on the badge issued by the hospital in that area. Very occasionally, a hospital has
its own coat of arms.
Midwifery badges very commonly include scenes of mother and baby, baby in swaddling clothes and, surprisingly, storks.
You would have thought that
midwives of all people should realize where babies come from.
Mottos, if not taken from the local coat of arms, expect the nurse to be God fearing, obedient, compassionate, self sacrificing, hard working and trustworthy - there
is nothing about
independence or intelligence. The nursing stereotype of ministering angel also figures strongly.
(21 years service)
Hospital? Can you
One of a
Badge but which
Infirmary? Can you help?
Queens Hospital but which one? Birmingham or
Hospital (Subnormality Hospital)
Hospital School of
Midwifery. London? Can
Royal South Hants Hospital early Nurses League Badge
COHSE Trained Nurses
Health Service Employees) COHSE
of Public Employees (Nurses Badge)
CH Another mystery badge.
© 1992 Edelweiss James
In the late 1960's, the General
Nursing Council for England and
Wales was issuing on an annual
basis some 11,500 SEN (State
Enrolled Nurse) and 17,000 SRN
(State Registered Nurse) plus smaller numbers for the other parts of the Register - RMN (Registered Mental Nurse),
RSCN Registered Sick Children's Nurse) and RNMD (Registered Nurse for Mental Defectives). In the past, another part of the Register was RFN (Registered Fever Nurse).
In England and Wales, nurses
who were qualified on more one
Register had a single badge with the
appropriate qualification and dates on the back. In Scotland, different badges
were given for each part of Register.
Most of those registered and
enrolled nurses - not to mention the
trained midwives -
also had a training school
badge. There must therefore have
been hundreds of thousands of
nurses badges issued in the past
- and they are still being issued. I have about 1,000 different
British nursing badges in my
collection. It sounds large but
only represents a small fraction of those issued.
Many hospitals such as the Hammersmith and Charing Cross (both are in London) have changed the design of their badges many times. Others such as the Ancoats (in Manchester)
and St. Bartholomew's have not changed the design for decades.
Badges have been given for long service - an example
here being that given by the Institute of District Nursing for 21 years
service. In 1894, Guy's Hospital (in London) started to give a
silver medal to nurses who had served in the hospital or had been a
private nurse visiting people at home in the area for more than 5 years.
This is a fairly common badge and, in
the Burdett's Nursing
Directory of 1898, a large number of nurses said they had it. I
do not know when it was last issued.
Sometimes, I have come across a badge
which only has the initials of the organisation which issued it. This causes problems -
is it a nursing badge or not? For instance, I have a badge with
the initials CLSA together with the City of London coat of arms.
There was a City of London Sick Asylum which in 1900 was listed
as training nurses. The question
arises - do I have one of its badges?
Other times, one comes across a pair
of badges - one being issued by the General
Nursing Council and the other with just
initials. Here one is sure that it is
a hospital - but which one? For example, what hospital was RAH
(the badge was issued to a man)?
Many of those hospitals which are for the mentally ill or the sub normal
seldom mention what kind of hospital they are. On the other hand,
children's and maternity hospitals almost always do so. Fashions never
A large number of badges contain
the words 'League of Nurses' or 'Nursing League'. These are in the nature of
old girl networks of those who trained at
the same hospital. Sometimes, they issued badges to nurses before the hospitals themselves did - an example here is The Royal South Hants Hospital in
There have been badges issued for
particular occasions. At least 9 nurses received medals for looking after the sick in the
Typhoid Epidemic of 1894/95 at Newport, Isle of Wight in which
there were over 500 cases and over 50 deaths. I am happy to say
that I have one of these medals.
Many of the older hospitals started as workhouses which
contained an infirmary for the
chronic sick. These gradually evolved into separate hospitals -
often changing their names and over the passage of time becoming much loved by the local community rather than being
The nurses and staff working in these infirmaries had their own training
organisations and trade unions.
Examples include the Poor Law
Workers Union, the Poor Law Officers Union, the
National Union of County
Officers, and the Hospital and Welfare Services Union - these came
together in 1948 to form COHSE. Most
of these unions issued badges but I do not have them in my
Both COHSE and NUPE have issued badges for their nursing sections - these are just as
attractive as many of the modern
training school badges. Some regions of COHSE in the North East
of England issue their own badges.
Some nurses are very dismissive of union badges - it is only recently that the
Royal College of Nursing has regarded
itself as a union. I believe,
however, that such badges form an essential part of nursing
history. Some of the early nursing trade unions issued badges that I
would give my eye teeth for. Examples include The National Asylum
Workers Union and the Mental Hospital and Institutional
Workers Union. Can anyone help?
I think that the 1920's were the heyday of nursing badges with
many hundreds of different
training schools and perhaps a hundred nursing organisations. The General Nursing Council however
had a supervisory role in the training of nurses and it laid down
increasingly stringent requirements such as the number of beds and the
range of expertise available in the hospital.
Over the years, the number of training schools has substantially
reduced. Now there is often one training school in each District
Health Authority (there are now 192 of these in the whole of Britain). Not all of these still
issue nursing badges. I think it is very sad that a long standing
tradition has been broken for extremely marginal cost savings.
In 1983, the different training organisations amalgamated to form the
UKCC. Before this there were such organisations as the
General Nursing Council, the British Orthopedic Association and Central Council for the Disabled and the
Board (this is not a complete list). All of these
organisations stopped issuing badges and the UKCC never did do so -
this caused a great deal of dissent in the profession.
A book has recently been published called 'British
Nursing Badges - An Illustrated
History'. It was written by
Jennifer Meglaughlin (who has
since sadly died). It is published by Vade Mecum Press, 31-35
Great Ormond Street, London WON 3HZ and gives a very good introduction
to the subject.
I would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is interested in
nursing badges and nursing history. I would also be very interested
in hearing from anyone who has badges
- perhaps awarded to deceased relatives - with a view to my either
recording their existence or buying them for my collection.
© 1992 Edelweiss James.
Schools of Nursing.
Hospital Photograph Collections.
Nursing and Hospital badges.
Irish Nursing Badges.
Nursing & Midwifery Council.
Royal College of Nursing.
Marple & Bradley
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