This history of nursing the United States is long and not always happy. The profession of nursing was not respected originally. The majority of nurses were seen as nothing more than lay assistants who just did busywork or cleaning while the trained doctors attended to patients.
This perception started to change in the early 20th century. Nurses began to attend school in order to learn how to better assist doctors. It became clear that nurses were vital to patient care sometime around the 1930s. Nurses grew in popularity during World War II. An interesting thing that reflects the journey of nurses from untrained assistants to vital medical professionals is the uniforms. Nurses originally just wore a long and cumbersome dress not really designed for medical work. This started to change over the decades. Nursing uniforms eventually slimmed down into narrow dresses. The invention of the washing machine caused hospitals to start providing nurses with white outfits that could easily be cleaned and reused from day to day. It was not until the 1970s and later that nurses were finally allowed to wear functional outfits with separate shirts and pants. The clothes changed dramatically in the 1980s when nurses began wearing scrubs around hospitals. Modern nursing uniforms are basically scrubs. Color coded clothes are used in most hospital environments to determine the position, specialty area or assignment of a nurse. Nurses in some positions are even free to wear tops that have fun or bright patterns. The uniforms that nurses wear today are a sign of just how far the professional has come over the last century.