1911 Nurse, Ellie Karhu

Eliana “Ellie” Karhu, 1910-11 Nurse

Late Edwardian 1899-1914 Working Women; 1899-1914 Edwardian

Ellie is a nursing student with a passion for the performing arts. If you consider what the two have in common, it’s people – helping them to understand things and to feel more positive about their lives.

This is an opportunity for Ellie to study and emulate real nurses in history. There are many women who brought fame to the profession – Florence Nightengale in the Crimean who “invented” it and created the concept of “uniform” with the help of the American sportswear company Redfern, Mother Theresa who implemented the concept, and many many others. There are also lots and lots of photographs, artifacts, and museum displays about nurses starting with the Civil War (because the camera had been invented just before then).

Most of the stories, however, start with World War I, which according to history books started in 1915. We who study the history of women know the “rumblings” began much earlier than that with the movement of ships and armies into strategic positions, capturing of vessels, and general breakdown of political diplomacy in parts of the world.

Silhouettes depicts American women years 1740-1914, and we stop just short of World War I on purpose. The Edwardian fashion era had already been exploding into factions since the 1890’s, and by 1914, a woman was as likely to be dancing the Tango in a tight-ankled “hobble” skirt as wearing the newly invented “breast supporter” which would become the “brassiere” and a full bodied corset as they would a tight Edwardian monobosum corset and large feathered hat as they would a sequined and beaded low-waisted tea gown. By 1915, pretty much “anything went”, and so we stop short there.

Depiction of a nurse seemed logical because the profession was gaining respect, and in the next years, would be absolutely vital everywhere in the world. Their fashion was somewhat standardized, and so could be studied, analyzed, and created for depiction of a specific character without too much difficulty. The question was “whom”?

Key Real Nurses of the Time

History books note several women before and after the 1910 year we have selected. They were in the profession of nursing before the War, and after for the most part. Some we draw on information about the personalities and traits, although they might not hit our specific time frame.

These real women nurses are in the history books, as well as records of their stories through diaries and letters.  We salute these remarkable every day women who changed history one patient at a time.

1885 from LA
1890 Pediatric Ward, Bellevue
1890’s nurses at Hull Institute
1898 Georgina Pope, First Canadian Nurse to enter the Boer War
1900 Memphis Nursing School Grad
1902 Pan American emergency nursing staff
1910 Canadian nursing grads leaving for Europe
1910 Einstein Medical Center nurse
1910 Ida B Berver
1910 Nurse Andernach
1910 nurses in Berlin
1914 St. John Ambulance Corps
1915 3 American nurses in France
Anna Caroline Maxwell
Annie Alacon in Salonia
Dorothy Fielding
Edith Cavell, English nurse executed by the Germans
Elsa Brandstorm
Florence Farmborough
Florence Nightengale
Helen Fairchild is on a stamp! She had quite the history between many wars and places, starting as a Pennsylvania nurse and ending in France
Helen Norman was Queen Victoria’s health advisor. This photo 1885
Julia Stimson
Lenah Higbee
Linnie Lectron
Mairi Chisholm
Nora Margaret Sullivan O’Neil, surgeon 1939
Violet Constance Jessup survived 3 ship wrecks including the Titanic
Violet Constance
1890’s Whitechapel Nurses pray


Click here to go to Ellie’s Historical Time & Place page (next)

Click here to go to Ellie’s Fashion History page

Click here to go to Ellie’s Design Development page

Continue to see the finished project below:

Final Design Sketches

Final Selections – Fabrics & Notions

Slip (Chemise)

No longer a chemise, the new “slip” was designed to fit under the long profile corset. Ellie’s is of a woven 100% cotton striped lawn which gives it structure. Instead of a tied bodice, this is gathered to fit. The bottom has extensive pleats for easy movement of the legs in all directions.

This is the design for a woman for function, easy maintenance, and easy comfortable movement. The only challenge will be buttoning up the back, but it is close to being possible to slip it over the head like the chemises of the decades earlier.

Mother of pearl buttons were being replaced by early plastics and glass. Ellie’s are 1/4″ pearl.


The working woman of 1910 had to choose between the 1909 model corset and the brand new 1910 model. The older version, more logical as comfort and familiarity would be a key for work, is a bit shorter through the torso with a tight waist cinching and no garters. The later version always had garters at center front and back, and covered the hips entirely.

For both types there was a choice between an underbust model which required the new “brassiere” as it was called by the French (“breast supporter” in America) a medium as Ellies, or a high busted version which went 1″ above the nipple line. The problem with the later was either the woman had to be fully endowed to fill the top, or had to buy inflatable inserts to finish the silhouette.

Ellie’s medium bust and long profile is padded out by era specific designed rump and breast pads to get the “off center” and “monobosum” look of the Edwardians. Hers is made of a tea-dyed couteil and would have been bought out of a catalog.

She has machine embroidery at the hip to give some personalization. The busk is a longer 13″ straight metal, as the spoon busk is not needed for the straight profile, especially with uniforming (which is technically sportswear) which did allow for movement of the hips via the hip gussets.




Nursing Cap



Earrings, Watch Fob

Chatelaine Bag with Clip and Tools


Ellie loves that syringe!

Click here to go to Ellie’s Nurse Historical Context page

Click here to go to Ellie’s Nurse Fashion History page

Click here to go to Ellie’s Nurse Design Development page

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Click here to go to the Buffalo Gals Introduction page with a list of the Gals