The Pelican Badge

Through British, European and American history the pelican, an amazing bird, has been reproduced in many forms and on diverse materials. The emblem features worldwide, appearing on some flags, in various features of architecture, on glass windows, in jewellery and within heraldry.


An interesting feature in Aachen Cathedral is a beautiful mosaic Pelican in her Piety [an allegorical emblem of the Christian church] embossed on the ceiling of the Palatine Chapel. This was built in 786 AD for Charlemagne. There is also a stone replica on the side of the cathedral. Also in stonework, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has a Pelican gargoyle while in Suffolk there is a church dedicated to St Mary where the pelican is seen in a medieval stained glass window. Nearer home, St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh has a Pelican in her Piety in the roof of the Thistle Chapel, while Crieff  Episcopal Church has a small pelican within its lit dome.

The pelican not only appears on family crests; in the United States of America it is borne on the flag of Louisiana, above the state motto: Union, Justice and Confidence.

Our pride in our hospital badge has indeed many associations.

Sheila Howieson

Not only associated with sacrifice and well-established in Christian liturgy, the pelican features in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s heraldic crest.

The School of Nursing was founded in 1872 and in 1917 the Pelican badge was introduced, to be awarded to Royal trained nurses who had also completed a fourth year, nursing in the wards of the Royal Infirmary. This predated State Registration which was only implemented in 1921. Later, in 1963, the badge award was extended to Enrolled Nurses who had completed their 2-year training followed by a 6-month period nursing in the wards. The last Pelican badges were awarded in 1987, in response to the radical alteration of nurse training nationwide and a post qualifying 4th year was no longer a distinctive option.

The enduring significance of the Pelican

The Pelican journal was first published in 1927 as a means of keeping RIE ‘Pelicans’ of all generations in touch. Later, in 1936, the Pelican Nurses’ League began its life.

On 7 October 1972 the centenary anniversary of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh School of Nursing was celebrated.

At a church service in Greyfriars Kirk the next day Sister Williams [known to many of us as a fearsome clinical instructor] made the following observation:

As we think of the last Century of Nursing, it is good to remember that the symbol of the Pelican claims in each of us in 1972 this same sacrificial compassion, along with the advances made in scientific knowledge and skill.

From the 1972 Christmas edition of the ‘Consultative’ [with thanks to the Lothian Health Services archivist]

Badge Developments

Colour Badge of Nurses'Pelican League

pelican badge green

The badge (left, top) is the badge of the RIE School of Nursing, awarded to nurses who completed their three year training followed by one year as a Staff Nurse in the RIE.  The badge (left, bottom) is the badge of the RIE Enrolled Nurse (EN) Training School, awarded to nurses  who completed their training and became an Enrolled Nurse (EN) followed by six months as an Enrolled Nurse (EN) in the RIE.

In 1974, South Lothian College was created by amalgamating three Schools of Nursing.  Thus the RIE School of Nursing/Enrolled Nurse (EN) Training School no longer existed as a single entity.

Discussion ensued at RIE Nurses’ League meetings to consider the future use of the badge.
AGM 1978:  Minute item 10.  ‘Consideration was then given to the future of the Pelican Badge and it was decided to circulate all League members to ask for their help in making a decision on whether to continue to award the Pelican as a League badge or to discontinue it altogether.’

October 1978:  A letter written by the Hon. President, Miss J L P Robertson, to all League members.  ‘I am writing this special letter to you because of my deep concern for the future of our Pelican Badge.’  Miss Robertson went on to explain the changes since 1974, the amalgamations and the South Lothian College replacing the RIE School of Nursing.  It had been suggested that nurses who trained at South Lothian College and who then held a Staff Nurse’s post in the RIE for one year could be eligible for a badge.  In such a case the badge wording would change from ‘Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh School of Nursing’ to ‘Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh Nurses’ League’.  League members were asked for their opinion and it was pointed out how important this was.  A postcard was sent to each member asking if the badge should be issued as suggested.

AGM 1979:  It was reported that there was an 83% response to the letter (see October 1978 above).  Of the 874 replies received 768 were in favour of continuing with the Pelican as a League Badge.  It was agreed that the words ‘Nurses’ League’ would replace ‘School of Nursing’ (see Minutes of AGM 28th April 1979).  

Journal 1980:  The Treasurer’s report mentions ‘The Special Fund for perpetuating the Pelican Badge.’

AGM 1980:  It was reported that 500 badges had been ordered in white metal, silver plated.

AGM 1981:  Pelican Badge Appeal Fund is detailed separately (Accounts 1979/80).

Newsletter 1982:  Treasurer’s report, penultimate paragraph, ‘This fund is fulfilling its purpose completely, and already twenty-seven trained nurses have received the badge and joined the Pelican League.’  

Executive Committee Minutes April 1982: 11.3.  ‘Note pads, key rings etc. with the Pelican motif are once again available.  Interest was expressed in diaries once more.’

Newsletter 1990:  The Badge Fund, £28.79 transferred to General Fund, Balance at 30.9.89 NIL.



How the badge has appeared on Journals and Newsletters since 1965:black badge

Up untill 1980:  with the words 'Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, School of Nursing'.
1981 – 1991:  no writing on the badge on the Newsletter.
1992 – 2009:  no writing on the badge on the Journal.
2010 until the present day.
Note: sometimes the badge without any words would appear all black (as right).



The Annual Pelican League Journal

Pelican League Journal