Florence Nightingale's cap comes out to honor nurses

The nursing cap of Florence Nightingale was on display at the front of the room during the Nightingale Awards at the Mystic Marriott May 8.
The nursing cap of Florence Nightingale was on display at the front of the room during the Nightingale Awards at the Mystic Marriott May 8. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

A lacy relic from the dawn of modern nursing served as a centerpiece for this year's annual Nightingale Awards banquet May 8 at the Mystic Marriott, reminding today's nurses of the remarkable woman considered the founder of their profession.

A cap worn by Florence Nightingale, the British nurse who became famous for sanitary and health reforms at hospitals during the Crimean War in the 1850s, was displayed for the first time at this year's banquet, the 14th year of the event. Mary Lenzini, president of the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut and one of 17 health care organizations that participate in the Nightingale program in Eastern Connecticut, said the cap was brought out to showcase the local connection to the one of the most revered nurses of all time.

The cap has been displayed in a glass case at The Westerly Hospital since 1965, when it was donated by a local resident. It was given to the hospital in commemoration of Nightingale's 145th birthday on May 12 of that year.

Sometime during or after the Crimean War, Nightingale gave the cap to Cyrus Hamil, an American missionary and educator who worked in Turkey during the war. He had invented stoves and laundry equipment Nightingale used in hospitals for the wounded, and also opened bakeries that helped feed her patients, according to an account provided by Lenzini. The cap remained in Hamil's family for 100 years until Mrs. Basil Hall, a Westerly resident and great-granddaughter of Hamil, donated it to the hospital.

From the earliest days of nursing, the nurse's cap was an important part of the white uniform and a symbol of the profession, worn both for practical reasons to keep hair in place as well as to identify the nurse as one in service to the sick. Caps evolved from the lacy, delicate head covers like those worn by Nightingale to the more familiar, starched white hats of the 20th Century. At many nursing schools, capping ceremonies celebrated students' completion of training and readiness to enter the profession, with each school issuing its own cap with some unique stripe or subtle difference in shape, said Mary McMahon, clinical director for the VNA.

"It really did distinguish the nursing profession," she said.

By the 1980s, nursing caps and white uniforms had disappeared from use in favor of surgical scrubs. Bringing Nightingale's cap out for the ceremony honoring today's nurses served to remind the hundreds gathered there of nursing's long history as one of the most respected professions. What she found most fascinating about Nightingale's cap was its delicate, formal appearance, a seeming contradiction to the harsh environment Nightingale and her fellow nurses worked in close to the battlefields of the Crimean War.

"People were really excited to see it," said McMahon. "Many didn't know it was even at Westerly Hospital."

At the awards program, outstanding nurses are honored with commemorative gifts and recognized for their contributions to the profession. The Eastern Connecticut event is one of three across the state. The others recognize nurses in the Hartford and Fairfield counties.

Nurses chosen for the awards are selected by their employers based on award guidelines. The criteria are that the honoree has made a significant impact on patient care; has gone "beyond the call;" has demonstrated excellence; has shown commitment to the community; and has had outstanding life-long achievement. Official sponsors of the Eastern Connecticut event are the Hartford Healthcare East Region (parent of Backus and Windham hospitals); Lawrence + Memorial Healthcare; and the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut.

This year's award winners and their employers are: Judith Albright, Madison, Three Rivers Community College; Carol Artiaco, Putman, Day Kimball Hospital; Angela Authier, North Grosvenordale, The William W. Backus Hospital; Heather Bader, Uncasville, Lawrence + Memorial Healthcare; Karen Barbone, Canterbury, Windham Hospital; Joan Barton, Chepachet, R.I., Day Kimball; Kimberly Cady, Greene, R.I., Day Kimball; Pam Cheney, Mansfield Center, Windham Hospital; Pamela Croxton, Groton, Mary Morrison Elementary School VNASC; Nancy Deady, West Greenwich, R.I., Backus; Cheryl DelaCruz, Groton, L+M; Patricia Egan, Wakefield, R.I., L+M; Donna Faragosa, Franklin, Backus; Donna Feria, Stonington, Westerly Hospital; Janet Fernandez, Foster, R.I. Day Kimball; Stephanie Gavitt, Waterford, Village at South Farms; Linda Gervasio, Chepachet, R.I., Day Kimball; Giselle Goupille, Norwich, Backus; Laurie Gwin, Gales Ferry, Ledyard Regional VNA; Linda Hart, Gales Ferry, Academy Point; Susan Hibbard, Woodstock, Day Kimball; Joan Lane, Norwich, Interim HealthCare; Kristen Lescault, North Grosvenordale, Day Kimball; JoEllen Lindbloom, Waterford, Backus Home Health; Suzanne Lord, Waterford, Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut; Jessica Maksim, Niantic, L+M; Annette Maruca, South Windsor, University of Connecticut School of Nursing; Lorraine Moon, Jewett City, Center for Hospice Care Southeast Connecticut; Sarah Niemiec, Brooklyn, Day Kimball; Ryan Ort, Quaker Hill, Backus; Bruce Patterson, Uncasville, Fairview Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Facility; Mabel Payne, Watch Hill, R.I., Westerly Hospital; Pricilla Quilter, Gales Ferry, Backus; Corinna Quimby, Lebanon, Backus; Lawrene Rafferty, Old Saybrook, VNASC; Joyce Ray, Columbia, Windham Hospital; Carol Rinzler, Norwich, OBGYN Services PC; Judy Serra, Westerly, Westerly Hospital; Jan Sevieri, Old Lyme, L+M; Robert Taylor, Waterford, Coastal Digestive Care Center; Marie Lucille Tetreault, Danielson, Day Kimball; Jean Van Arnam, Waterford, L+M; Janine Vose, Dayville, Day Kimball; Portia Wade, Norwich, Interim HealthCare; Noah White, Wallingford, Masonicare Home Health and Hospice; Sandra Woodward, Waterford, L+M; Anne Marie Wright, Niantic, VNASC; David Yearick, Wallingford, Masonicare.

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