Made to Order

Nursing at Morisset Psychiatric Hospital

If you had visited Morisset Psychiatric Hospital in the 1930s you may have met Jean Pursehouse wearing this standard-issue nurse’s uniform—a long-sleeved, blue-denim dress, with white buttons and collar.

On the long shift from sunrise to sunset, nurses like Jean rolled up the stiff sleeves of these, heavily starched, hardwearing uniforms to get on with their duties.

The role involved jobs such as flipping straw-filled canvas mattresses and making beds, helping female patients with showering and personal grooming, serving food and supervising the social and occupational activities of the patients.

Occasionally nurses were called upon to complete other tasks that are not part of their job today. Jean recalled how ‘hardships weren’t thought of but on reflection, I hated cleaning high windows or climbing on the verandah roof to retrieve clothing’.

And though they did often-messy work, nurses were required to set a neat example in their dress. Edith Sylvester, a former registered nurse at the Morisset Hospital recalled the strict morning rounds: ‘We all changed our aprons (or frocks), shined our shoes, rolled our sleeves down and put our cuffs on, making sure no hair was showing from under our caps. Absolutely no makeup.’

When the 1950s ushered in an era of new fashion, this style of uniform was replaced with a more practical short-sleeved dress that was lighter to wear and much easier to work in.