It could be said that nursing is as old as mankind since people have
always needed nursing care when ill or wounded. The word nurse is
derived from the Anglo-French nurice and the Latin nutrica,
both of which mean nourish. This is exactly what nurses have always done.
The common belief is that nursing has always been a feminine occupation with males
entering the field in recent years, but this is not the case. During the Middle Ages,
nurses were mostly untrained women who helped deliver babies or were wet nurses. Nuns
had more training and cared for the sick. However, by the 13th through the 16th centuries,
religious orders felt as if it was their duty to care for the physical needs of people as
well as their spiritual needs and formed brotherhoods to carry out this mission. In 1259,
the Alexian Brothers started the ministry of caring for the sick and hungry, and they are
still in existence today in many countries, including the United States. The Hospitaller
Brothers of St. John of God was formed in Spain in 1550. From 1550 through 1614, Saint
Camillus de Lellis cared for the sick and dying at St. James' Hospital in Rome. It was
not until 1633 when Saint Vincent de Paul founded the Daughter of Charity that women
began to play a larger role in organized nursing. In 1645, Jeanne Mance, a nurse from
France, established the Hotel-Dieu de Montreal in Canada, the first hospital in North
By the 18th century, the United States was beginning to realize the need for organized
nursing services. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond opened Pennsylvania
Hospital, the nation's first hospital. It served the poor and homeless in Philadelphia.
When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Congress recruited nurses to
care for the sick and wounded. They requested one nurse for every 10 patients.
Throughout the years, wars have increased the need for nurses and have had a great
influence on the evolution of nursing. Florence Nightingale, who is widely regarded
as the mother of modern nursing, made her greatest impact when she served in the
Crimean War from 1853 to 1856. Her sanitation efforts dropped the mortality rate
dramatically. She went on to establish the Florence Nightingale School for Nurses in
London. Between 1861 and 1865, over 2000 nurses served in the Civil War, some on the
front lines. Many of these nurses wrote of their war experiences.
As the United States continued to see the need for nursing education, the first training
school was opened 1872 at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Its
first graduate was Linda Richards, the first American trained nurse. After that, more and
more hospitals opened nursing schools. Unfortunately, in many of the schools, the training
consisted of very little book learning, and many times the students were exploited as free
labor. Contrary to the autonomous Nightingale schools, nursing was under the control of
By the 1970s, the three-year, hospital-based diploma schools were starting to be replaced
by two-year associate degree programs at technical schools or by four-year Bachelor of
Science degree programs at universities. These schools provide the academic curricula
and are affiliated with hospitals for clinical training. As the need for higher education
in nursing is growing, universities also are offering master's and doctorate programs.
The following nursing timeline shows how world events and famous nurses influenced
nursing history and paved the way for modern nursing practice.
1751 - The first hospital was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1775 to 1783 - Nurses were recruited to care for the wounded under the command of George Washington.
1783 - James Derham used his earnings from nursing to buy his freedom from slavery.
1841 - Dorothea Dix advocated for the mentally ill and established mental institutions.
1853 to 1856 - Florence Nightingale served in the Crimean War and set up a holistic system of nursing.
1859 - Notes On Nursing
by Florence Nightingale was published. It was one of the first nursing manuals ever written.
1860 - The Florence Nightingale School of Nursing was opened in London.
1861 - Nurses began to wear uniforms.
1861 to 1865 - During the Civil War, over 2,000 nurses cared for injured and ill soldiers.
1865 - Sojourner Truth cared for injured African-American soldiers in Washington, D.C. Her sanitation practices reduced infections, and she taught other nurses her principles.
1873 - Linda Richards, the first American trained nurse, graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children School of Nursing.
1879 - Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African-American trained nurse, graduated from the New England Hospital School of Nursing.
2010 - The Institute for the Future of Nursing released recommendations for improved health care.
Nursing in the past laid the framework for the common purpose of health and well-being
of individuals and communities. Nursing theories and processes have changed over the
years, but the goal of nursing today remains the same.