VCU Libraries Gallery


Base Hospital No. 45 Nurse Uniform

Army nurse Ethlynde Emma Smith wore this uniform during the Great War. It is made of dark blue serge fabric in the Norfolk Suit style, with a navy blue shirtwaist, white collar, and Norfolk hat. The uniform also includes a dark blue overcoat, tan gloves (not displayed) and tan shoes. Deployed nurses wore this uniform when not on duty. The chevron on the lower sleeve indicates overseas duty of 6 months. Nurse Smith’s Victory Medal indicates service in St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and the Defense Sector.

Before the war, there was no outdoor uniform for Army nurses. With Army nurses being sent overseas once the US entered the war, one was quickly designed and approved in 1917. The creation of the official standardized uniform distinguished them as members of the Army Nursing Corps when not on duty, and also set them apart from nurses in other armies. Nurses were required to furnish their own uniforms. Though their pay was increased by $10 monthly to help cover clothing costs, it was still not enough to cover the cost of outfitting themselves properly during wartime. The Red Cross contributed to the clothing needs of nurses for the duration of the war.

The indoor “work” uniform changed slightly over the course of the War. The traditional starched white cotton uniforms were soon found unsuitable. These crisp white uniforms were quickly and easily soiled and proved difficult to clean and sterilize without proper laundry facilities, which were in short supply in war-torn Europe. The uniforms came to be made of grey crepe, and finally grey jersey with removable white cotton cuffs and collars. Jersey uniforms were more durable and warmer in the cold French winters than crepe. Nurse Smith’s grey jersey duty uniform still bears reminders of the work she performed while in France, as well as her name carefully printed inside for identification.

Base Hospital No. 45 Uniform

Dr. Robert Grant Willis wore this uniform while serving at Base Hospital No. 45. U.S. Army officers were responsible for purchasing their own uniforms with the assumption that they would take better care in their dress and set an example for the enlisted men. M. Rosenberg, a Richmond tailor, made this one for Willis in August 1917.

The coat and breeches are made of wool and the shirt of cotton, all in the standard olive drab color. The uniform includes the appropriate brass buttons and insignia.  The caduceus insignia on the collar signifies that he was part of the medical corps and a noncombatant.  Both sleeves have a half-inch officer cuff braid and each shoulder bears his lieutenant bars. The patch on the left shoulder is an Advance Section, Services of Supply patch. The gold chevron located on the lower left sleeve denotes six months of overseas service. It is possible that Dr. Willis would have worn a Sam Browne belt with this uniform (a wide leather belt with a diagonal shoulder strap) as officers were allowed, but not required, to wear one. A pair of tall, sturdy boots and an officer’s visor cap would have completed the uniform.