Living images from the history of nursing – Croatia

During the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs held  a Joint Meeting of Chief Medical, Nursing and Dental Officers – CMOs, CNOs, CDOs, from 2 to 4 March 2020. A revue of historical uniforms was presented as part of the meeting.

“Living Images from the History of Nursing” is a costume revue of uniforms of religious communities and nurses, accompanied by a description of the historical moments in which nursing in Croatia grew from a vocation into a profession.

The participants in the revue were: the Nursing History Society of the Croatian Nurses Association, the School for Nurses Mlinarska, and the Ivanec Knights Association from Ivanec

The revue leader was Sanda Franković, President of the Nursing History Society of the Croatian Nurses Association

The revue was realised by the teachers of the School for Nurses Mlinarska: Sanda Franković, Milica Kljak, Ines Štivić, Iva Vinduška Jeftić, Iva Šušterčić and Danijela Paškov. The uniforms were worn by the students of the School for Nurses Mlinarska.

The Knights of Saint John

The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, or the Knights Hospitaller, was a significant event in the Middle Ages. The order was most probably created at a hospital established by the Amalfi merchants in Jerusalem around 1070.

The Knights Hospitaller arrived in Croatia at the invitation of Ban Borić in the 12th century, when they owned large estates with the fortified town of Bela on Ivančica. In 1312, they moved their headquarters to Vrana, then to Pakrac. They operated in Croatia until the 17th century.

Brothers of Mercy

The founder of the Order of the Brothers of Mercy was Saint John of God. He was born in 1495 in Portugal but later lived in Spain. A Foundation Hospital was opened in Zagreb in 1804 and the Brothers of Mercy from Bratislava were invited to care for the sick.

Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul 

At the request of the Bishop Haulik in 1845, six Daughters of Charity came to Zagreb. Their task was to treat sick women in a small convent hospital with 12 beds; and to care for young women. The today’s Sisters of Charity Hospital in Zagreb was built thanks to them. Our first sister teachers at the School for Nurses in Mlinarska came from this company and were educated in Vienna.

Sisters of Mercy

At the request of the Bishop of Đakovo, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, mother Maria Theresia Scherer sent ten sisters to Đakovo. They arrived on June 7, 1868. Immediately upon arrival, the two nurses took over the care of patients in a a small manorial hospital. They diligently learned Croatian, and after two years, the started working as teachers at the women’s public school and the women’s school of education.

Jelka Labaš 

The Rudolfinerhaus, a well-known school still operating today, was founded by surgeon Theodor Billrot in Vienna in 1882. The school was attended by Dame Jelka Labaš Blaškovečki. When the first school for nurses in Croatia was established in Zagreb in 1921, Vladimir Ćepulić was appointed principal and Jelka Labaš became the first superintendent

Nurse uniforms 1928.

In the period between the two world wars, Andrija Štampar carried out a reform of the health service. He introduced a social-medical preventive approach for protecting the health of the general population, with a strong emphasis on rural regeneration. He turned the idea of a healthcare national revival into a movement.

In 1928, the Ministry of Public Health gave a basic outline of the uniform, while the Vocational Schools Act of 1930 would explicitly prescribe the appearance of a nursing uniform and restrict its wearing solely to nurses. Others were forbidden to wear such a uniform.

During that time, at the nurses’ request, a headgear very similar to a nun’s coif, was removed, and replaced with a cap that covers the whole head, and later only a part of it.

Nurse uniform 1960- 1980. 

After World War II, the girls were not the only ones admitted in nursing schools. Since uniforms in hospitals were not aligned, a catalog of Standardised Uniforms for the entire former state was published in 1979. The catalog provided several possible models for nurses. The dominant colors are light blue for a nurse with a high school degree, and a dark blue one for nurses with a college degree.

The tradition of wearing nurse caps was abolished in the 1990s. At this time, the trousers became an integral part of the nurse uniform.


Although there is a wide variety of nurse uniforms today, the typical color divisions are still present. Light blue uniforms are worn by nurses with a high school degree. Dark blue uniforms are worn by nurses with a bachelor’s or graduate degree in nursing.