A List Of Rules For Nurses … From 1887

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

Whether you’re a new nurse or a seasoned nurse, it’s always intriguing to take a look back at the history of the nursing profession.  This list illuminates the day-to-day tasks and regulations pertaining to the life of a nurse in 1887—before routine charting was even invented.

1887 Nursing Job Description

In addition to caring for your 50 patients, each bedside nurse will follow these regulations:

1. Daily sweep and mop the floors of your ward, dust the patient’s furniture and window sills.

2. Maintain an even temperature in your ward by bringing in a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.

3. Light is important to observe the patient’s condition. Therefore, each day fill kerosene lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks.

4. The nurse's notes are important in aiding your physician’s work. Make your pens carefully; you may whittle nibs to your individual taste.

5. Each nurse on day duty will report every day at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m., except on the Sabbath, on which day she will be off from 12 noon to 2 p.m.

6. Graduate nurses in good standing with the director of nurses will be given an evening off each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if you go regularly to church.

7. Each nurse should lay aside from each payday a goodly sum of her earnings for her benefits during her declining years, so that she will not become a burden. For example, if you earn $30 a month, you should set aside $15.

8. Any nurse who smokes, uses liquor in any form, gets her hair done at a beauty shop or frequents dance halls will give the director of nurses good reason to suspect her worth, intentions and integrity.

9. The nurse who performs her labors [and] serves her patients and doctors faithfully and without fault for a period of five years will be given an increase by the hospital administration of five cents per day.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. It’s really interesting to see all these old rules that nurses had. It’s kind of funny that nurses who gets her hair done at a beauty shop had to prove their intentions and integrity. I’m really glad that it’s changed so much since then. My mom used to be a CNA and she loves getting her hair done.

  2. Happy to have retired, no more cleaning chores. Dusting those blinds in the 10 foot windows was a real stretch!

  3. That why I left nursing…#8…I thought I was entering an esteemed profession. All I ever seemed to work with were drunken, back stabbing, callous “nurses” with very little integrity.

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