Nursing History

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The history of nursing is rich and fascinating.  Many individuals have worked very hard to move nursing forward. 

Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing.  Ms. Nightingale was an unusual woman in the Victorian era.  She was educated in the classics and traveled widely.  Resisting family pressure, she pursued the study of nursing.  Find out more about this remarkable woman from these websites:

This is the site of the Florence Nightingale Museum in England.  A brief biography of Ms. Nightingale is included.

A non-nurse, County Joe McDonald, became interested in Florence Nightingale when working with Vietnam Nurses.  He developed a website in tribute to Ms. Nightingale.  His perspective is that Ms. Nightingale was the first nurse-victim of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (an aftermath of what she experienced during the Crimean War).  If you read Adelaide Nutting's biography of Florence Nightingale, you can hear her voice by clicking on the recordings sites on the left of the page.  A fascinating site!

An essay on Florence Nightingale.  Although we think of Ms. Nightingale as a pioneer in nursing and public health, she was also a brilliant statistician.  This site includes a link to her polar diagram, a statistical model that visually depicts comparison of data.  [More deaths occurred among British soldiers from care of wounds than those actually killed on the battlefield.]  Ms. Nightingale used this kind of diagram to demonstrate that nursing care decreased the mortality of soldiers.  Many contemporary statisticians have little knowledge of this model.

Read Florence Nightingale letters from this collection at the University of Kansas Medical Center:

Lillian Wald was pioneer nurse in the United States.  She founded the Henry Street Settlement and Henry Street Visiting Nurse Services.  A political activist and suffragette, Ms. Wald campaigned for better conditions for mothers and children.  Horrified by child labor, she worked for laws to end such practices.  She was instrumental in establishing the Children's Bureau at the federal level.  Ms. Wald is a prime example of a nurse who was involved in improving the quality of life for the community.  Ms. Wald was the only nurse recognized as one of the Notable women of the 20th Century.  She certainly is a role model that all nurses should follow.  Here are websites to read about Lillian Wald:


The American Nurses' Association Hall of Fame

Find out about notable nurses of the past.  Some of my favorites are Mary Breckenridge (founder of Frontier Nursing Service), Lavinia Dock (a suffragette), Mary Adelaide Nutting (established nursing at Teachers' College, Columbia University), Isabel Stewart (one of the founders of the American Nurses' Association), and Lillian Wald (pioneer in public health nursing and founder of the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service).  You can also find information about Clara Barton and the founding the American Red Cross.  Mary Eliza Mahoney was the nation's first African American nurse.  Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail was a pioneer Native American nurse.  Veronica Margaret Driscoll worked with the New York State Nurses' Association and was a role model of political activism; under her leadership NYSNA led the nation with several innovations for nursing associations.  Click on Inductees to read about these remarkable nurses.  


Nursing History websites compiled by Dr. Dianne Brownson.  Resources online as well as books about specific events or particular nurses.


Edith Cavell was a British nurse executed by the Germans during World War I.  Here's a website with additional information.

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This page maintained by Elizabeth N. Stokes,

last updated:  September 5, 2007