Following is an excerpt from a great speech I found on the internet re: the history of pinning...
May 14, 1999
"On Pins and Needles"
Toni Thress, RNC, MSN
(used by permission)
"The tradition of the nursing pin and the ceremonial pinning originated in the 1860's at the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London. Having been recently awarded The Red Cross of St. George for her selfless service to the injured and dying in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale chose to extend the honor to her most outstanding graduate nurses by presenting each of them with a medal for excellence.
It was the Wolverton Royal Hospital School in England that initiated the tradition of presenting all graduates with a badge. The first pin was awarded to the graduating class of 1880 of the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. The pin presented to each of the graduates was both beautiful and symbolic. It featured a crane in the center for vigilance, encircled with a band of blue for constancy, and an outer band of red for mercy and relief of suffering. Dr. Opas reports that by 1916 the practice of pinning new nursing graduates was common in schools throughout the United Kingdom and North America.
For some, both within the nursing profession and the public, view the pinning ceremony as an outdated ritual. Some schools have already abandoned the pinning ceremony, and many others are considering doing so. But I, like so many of my colleagues, perceive this lovely tradition as a very meaningful and important rite-of-passage into the profession of nursing.
The nursing pin has been both literally and symbolically a cross to bear, a medal and a badge. And the pins of today still to me represent each of these precursors. Nursing is a cross to bear for those of us who remain with the patient long after others have given up hope and gone home. Nurses never forget about their patients; even when they are not caring for them physically, they remain in their thoughts. Remembering always that they are caring for someone's mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter, and that these people are counting on them to do for their loved one what they themselves cannot do. And there are those times when, in spite of all of our technology and care, that a patient does not survive and we must admit defeat and yield to death. At times this emotional burden truly seems unbearable, but we understand it is part of both the pain and the privilege of being a nurse.
The nursing pin remains a symbolic medal of honor. Nurses honor both the miracle of life and the finality of death. They respect and honor an individual's right to enter into life safely and to die with dignity. They also honor their patient's right to continue or refuse medical care even when they personally disagree with the decision.
The nursing pin is also a badge of courage. Nurses are courageous in caring for those patients that would otherwise be ignored or exiled by society. This courage was recently exemplified by a brave team of doctors and nurses caring for a pregnant woman and her unborn child at Wesley Medical Center. The woman is both HIV and Hepatitis C positive and had received no treatment at the time of her admission to the labor and delivery unit. After a thorough evaluation, it was decided that it was medically necessary that she be delivered by Cesarean section. The medical and nursing staff armed themselves as well as possible and courageously stepped up to the field. Tragically, the scrub nurse was accidentally cur on the arm with the surgical blade during the procedure. She remained calm and maintained her composure while in the patient's presence, but broke down outside the surgical suite. She understands the grave implications this incident will have on her life but is determined to remain dedicated to her job, her patients and to the nursing profession. Everyday nurses do battle on the front lines, fighting death and disease, but do so with courage and commitment. Contaminated needles are but just one of the many bullets they must dodge in carrying out their duties on a daily basis. They, like so many other professionals in public service, put their own lives in peril to save the life of another.
The pinning ceremony is, therefore, so much more than an event to mark the completion of nursing school. It is a beautiful rite-of-passage into the profession and, as Dr. Opas writes, "a reminder to all of us of nursing's well-founded historic promise to serve the infirmed."