The Nurse Pinning Tradition

The Museum often receives inquiries about the tradition of nursing school pins and the pinning ceremony. The nursing pin is a symbol with a rich history dating back to the Maltese Cross. The Crusaders wore the cross as a symbol of service to Christianity. Over the centuries various symbols represented service to a ruler or to the community. As a result of  Florence Nightingale’s influence, the importance of “nurses’ training” was recognized and hospitals began developing programs.  The Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London designed and awarded a badge with a Maltese Cross to the nurses as they completed their program.

By 1916, a ceremony awarding the badges was a tradition in England and the United States. The badge symbolized educated women who were prepared to serve the health needs of society. Eventually, each school of nursing designed and awarded a customized pin. In the United States the first pin presented to a graduating class occurred at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, 1880.  The pin featured a crane in the center for vigilance.  This center relief is encircled by a band of blue for constancy, and an outer band of red for mercy and relief of suffering.

The nursing pin and accompanying ceremony represented a meaningful experience for nursing students. It symbolized the completion of educational requirements that enabled nurses to sit for the state licensure examination and then practice nursing. Attached is a picture of the Bellevue Hospital pin which is part of the Museum of Nursing History collection. The Museum of Nursing History has an extensive collection of nursing pins and can be viewed when visiting the Museum.

Reference: Mary W. Rode (1989), The Nursing Pin: Symbol of 1,000 Years of Service, Nursing Forum, Vol. XXIV, issue 1, pgs. 15-17.

belveiw pin