American Nursing History


In Our Past, Lies our Future

History bears witness to key events and in the development of our professional identity.

The purpose of this web site is to tell the history of nursing in America- from colonial times to the present. Whenever possible, I plan to quote the words of past nurses as captured through their oral histories, memoirs, letters and written articles. 

Topics Covered

American Nursing History - Topics

Evolution of Professional Nursing in America

Occupational Pathways

Nursing in War, Disasters and Epidemics

Hospitals, Physicians and Nursing

Nursing Education in America
See companion website -




My Nursing Journey

I went into nursing after I was married. I had had three years of college and intended to go into medicine; love intervened and we married and started a family.When our second child entered school, I decided to return to school;  medicine wasn't an option at that point because of family obligations. After some thought, I decided on nursing . I was accepted  in the nursing program at the  University of Rochester however I could not afford college tuition . What to do? My parents next door neighbor was the chief of staff at Genesee Hospital The hospital had a diploma program which he highly recommended.  I decided to apply at the hospital's school of nursing and was accepted. What had seemed like an obstacle turned out to be a blessing.  The education I received both in the principles and clinical  experiences was excellent.  I have gone on to obtain two bachelors' degrees a, one in general studies and the other in nursing as well as two Masters' degrees , one in nursing and the other in education. I consider the strong foundation in nursing as well as clinical experiences in a teaching hospital was, to me, priceless.

 Student nurse showing off her Freshman uniform to the family

Student nurse showing off her Freshman uniform to the family

At that time preclinical subjects such as chemistry and anatomy and physiology were taught at a Community College. By also taking several classes at the University was able to earn the number of credits I needed and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1968 with  bachelor’s degree.

I graduated from nursing school in 1969 and started to work in the hospital’s ICU, I do not recall thinking about whether nursing was a job or profession.  I recall the Fundamentals of Nursing instructor was very clear when she instructed us not to refer to our education as ‘Training’; we were told – “animals are trained; people are educated”. When asked I  told people that I was a registered nurse and worked  at the hospital. I considered work as a job not a career. I had a bachelor’s degree but it was not in nursing;. I can recall attending a meeting with  fellow diploma graduates on the topic of the baccalaureate degree as the entry level for nursing. - as I recall it was a very noisy meeting – some of the sentiments expressed were: ‘it will never happen; diploma nurses are the ones who know how to care for patients’ and nurses with a bachelor’s degree don’t want to spend all the money and time just to provide bedside care.’  I kept quiet but it was clear to me that to progress in nursing would require a bachelor’s degree in nursing. .[1] I realized  I’d better go back to school and obtain my BSN. In 1972 I graduated from the University of Rochester . Along with my new degree, I started taking ‘baby steps’ toward thinking about what constitutes a  profession and how does this relate to nursing..




Nurses Thru the Ages.jpg

Introduction - Origin of  My Interest in Nursing History

I first became interested in the history of nursing when I began to think what it means to me to be a nurse. As I read about the history of nursing,  I began to realize and appreciate the struggle of nursing to gain control of their practice, develop standards  of care, earn a fair wage  and through education to obtain the knowledge, skills and ability to give quality care to our patients, elevating nursing to a profession and gaining the respect of other professions.

I read about the pioneers of nursing and their experiences, many told in their own words. I believe that events are clearer and more 'real', when related by people who were there and were part of the event. When several people relate events it is likely that there will be different perspectives resulting in a three dimensional picture. On a personal level, as I looked at photographs of nursing students from the 1880's to the present time I thought about each and wondered who they were, and what their story was.. Where were the stories of the these nurses seen only in photographs - many without their names?  I believe that the stories of  nurses are too important to lose and that it is important to the history of nursing and nursing  education to record these stories.

While it is not possible to obtain oral histories from some of the early pioneers in nursing, we are fortunate to have their written memoirs, biographies  and in some cases journal articles or books that they have written. Unfortunately, many nurses did not leave a written record of their experiences.  And in today's fast paced world with technology that allows for instant communication, e-mails and text messaging, read and then deleted, many stories  are lost.

This lead to the oral history project  and my nursing education website.  The history of nursing education is the companion website to this website.  )

While interviewing nurses regarding their basic nursing education I discovered that they were eager to tell me  about their life and career as Registered Nurse. I listened and realized that their stories were valuable additions to the history of nursing.

Material copied from  website and used with permission of Davida Michaels – sole owner, designer and webmaster,


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Davida Michaels, MSN, M.Ed. RN.
Sole Owner, designer  and webmaster -


Debbie 1.jpg

Davida (Debbie) Michaels

 MSN, M.Ed, RN

Sole Owner, Designer and Webmaster


July, 2018

Please contact me with any questions or comments.  If you have a story you’d like to tell, I’d love to hear from you!



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