Nursing lapel pins have been given to nursing graduates to recognize their achievements as students since the 1800s. In 1880, nursing students at the Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses were honored at graduation with lapel pins when they officially became certified nurses.
The First Nursing Pins
In 1873, a member of the Board of Bellevue Hospital made the suggestion that probationers wear a badge on their uniforms. Head nurses were given a badge with a medal to signify their seniority. The badges evolved into the lapel pins which were given to graduating students.
The graduating nursing class at Bellevue was honored with lapel pins that were designed by the famous jeweler, Tiffany & Co. The Bellevue class wasn’t the only one to receive designer pins from Tiffany. The company created exquisite pins for many nursing schools until the beginning of the 20th century.
How the Tradition Started
According to one story, the first person to be awarded a pin for her skills as a nurse was Florence Nightingale, known as “The Lady With the Lamp.” Florence served in the Crimean War, and in 1855 when she finished her wartime service, she was awarded an elegant lapel pin by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The lovely pin was created from gold and enhanced with cloisonne and diamonds.
The Crown Jewellers
The official jewellers of Queen Victoria appointed in 1843 were Garrard and Company of London. The interesting part of the story is that the first hospital in the United States to award nursing lapel pins to graduating nurses was Bellevue because it was founded on the principles of Florence Nightingale.
The Link To the 12th Century Crusaders
The Crusades which began in 1095, lasted for 200 years and took place in the Middle East. The Crusaders in the 12th-century wore a Maltese Cross to symbolize their devotion to the Christian faith. Some people theorize the crosses worn by the Crusaders was the beginning of the tradition that carried over to the nursing profession.
The University of Maryland School of Nursing
The University opened their nursing school in 1889 and continued the tradition in 1894 when the school chose Tiffany and Co to design a lapel pin for their graduating nurses. Although different designs were used for the pins over the years, in 1970 the Alumni Association chose the original design featuring a St. George’s Cross for members to wear.
Only members of the Alumni Association could wear the pin, and they had to show proof of membership to the jeweler to be able to purchase a pin. The original design became the official lapel pin for graduating nurses at the University of Maryland.
Another variation of the lapel pin comes from the UW-Madison School of Nursing which opened in 1926. Their pin features a Cross Pattee which goes back to the Middle Ages and was worn by the Knights Hospitallers, an order of nurses.
The Tradition of Nurse Pinning
The custom of nursing lapel pins ceremonies goes back to 1916 in the United States and England. The ceremony came about to honor educated women who served the needs of the sick in their communities. As the custom spread, each nursing school designed lapel pins to award to nursing students.
The pinning ceremony is a milestone for any student nurse. It signifies that she has completed her academic requirements and is ready to take the state licensing exam which will qualify her to work as a nurse.