Celebrating National Nurses Week—A Look Back Through the Years

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In celebration of National Nurses Week, take a look back through the years of nursing starting with the birth of modern nursing.


George Washington called on women to care for wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Previously, military nursing had been done by male soldiers. The army realized that if more women served as nurses, more men could fight in battle. Nurses received a salary of $2 per month.


After witnessing the disheartening treatment of prisoners, in particular those with mental illnesses, Dorothea Dix, famous Civil War nurse who served as superintendent of army nurses, began advocating for established mental institutions.


lampFlorence Nightingale, well-educated and wealthy, became a nurse against her English parent’s wishes and the social norm that nurse work was for the lowly and poor. During the Crimean War, Nightingale improved unsanitary conditions and dramatically reduced death rates caused by infectious diseases.

She is known as the “Lady with the Lamp” for making nightly rounds to take care of wounded soldiers. JHSON celebrates Nightingale’s legacy and contribution to nursing at its annual Lighting of the Lamp ceremony.

Late 1800s

Training schools were established within hospitals. Students could receive clinical schooling in exchange for providing free nursing care. The presence of nurses was tranformational for hospitals, which saw more organization, nursing interventions, and the humanization of medical practice. The Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses opened in October of 1889.


Linda Anne Judson Richards, America’s first trained nurse, graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children. America’s first African-American trained nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney, graduated from New England Hospital in 1879.


The American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses was established. Isabel Hampton Robb, superintendent of nurses at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses, was the society’s first president. The organization is now known as the National League for Nursing.


The Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, known today as the American Nurses Association, was established. Fewer than 20 nurses attended the first convention. The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was established in 1907 and later merged with the ANA.

washEarly 1900s

The recognized relationship between bacteria and illness swept across the globe. Nurses were instrumental in raising awareness about disease prevention. They focused on care for immigrant and poor communities, and death rates from infectious diseases saw a significant drop. Nurses were also hired to do in-home care.

Standards were set to mark the differences between untrained nurses, assistive personnel, and trained nurses.

The first colleges began offering nursing degree programs.


Lillian D. Wald founded and led the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. She was the first nurse to define public health nursing as nurses’ work within homes and community settings.


Technology continued to grow as did the demand for nurses. More people than ever needed more complex care, and by the 1950s, hospitals became the biggest employer for registered nurses.


Critical care nursing and intensive care units were born. There was a need for areas within the hospitals to care for critically ill patients, like those with polio. Death rates again plummeted due to the change, and by the 1960s, hospitals also had critical care units for patients with heart disease.


The first master’s program for nurses was offered by Columbia University School of Nursing.


Nurses still wore white dresses and caps, and it was expected that nurses would stand when a doctor entered the room. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree was recommended as the minimum degree requirement to begin nursing practice.


Clinical Nurse Specialists were practicing in full swing. CNS roles in psychiatric/mental health, cardiac, oncology, and community health had been established. Nurse practitioner programs in colleges were growing as was certification for the nursing administration specialty.


The profession saw a significant shortage and many nurses worked mandatory overtime. In 1980, the ANA published Nursing: A Social Policy Statement to describe nurse responsibility and to advocate for its role.

The Kardex was a nurse essential. It was a paper card-filing system that recorded patient information like medications, diet, procedures, etc. It was usually kept at the nurses station.


The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing opened as a degree-granting division of Johns Hopkins University.


Nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives dramatically grew in numbers and became more widely accepted as members of the health care team. At JHSON, the first accelerated program was launched. Students could earn a BS in Nursing in 13 months.


The Lillian D. Wald Community Nursing Center was established by JHSON to serve Baltimore’s underinsured.


The American Nurses Association designated May 6-12 as the permanent week to celebrate “National Nurses Week.” The first doctoral program, which began with 5 students, was established at JHSON.


Johns Hopkins University’s Anne M. Pinkard Building opened. It was the first building dedicated to the education of Hopkins nurses.


The need for more advanced nursing continued to grow. The 2010 Future of Nursing report recommended nurses achieve higher levels of education and be full partners in redesigning health care.


JHSON partnered with Peking Union Medical College to offer the first doctoral education of nurses in China.


The Doctor of Nursing Practice program was established at the JHSON.


JHSON launched the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): Entry into Nursing program

johns hopkins school of nursing2016

JHSON is ranked the No. 1 master’s program in the country and No. 2 DNP program among schools of nursing by U.S. News & World Report and the No. 2 nursing school in the world by QS World University.




As Media Relations Coordinator/Writer, Danielle connects media with the faculty and students of the school of nursing. She writes press releases, magazine articles, blog posts, and more.

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