Nursing as a health care profession evolved from society’s traditional roles of nurturing and healing. A more sophisticated framework for caring developed as it became apparent that nurturing alone was not sufficient to care for the sick adequately. The oldest forms of organized nursing in the western world occurred within the frameworks of religious orders and the military. The perception of caring for the sick as a religious duty lead to the establishment of the first nursing order by the Augustinian Sisters of Hotel Dieu during the middle ages.
The foundation of modern nursing practice was the work done by Florence Nightingale in the 1850’s while caring for British troops during the Crimean war. Her ideas about the value of caring for the sick and injured paved the way for the development of the profession of nursing. Linda Richards became the first trained nurse in America when she graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston in 1873. In 1923 the Yale University School of Nursing became the first school of nursing to offer an academic rather than apprenticeship training for nurses.
Only if we know who we were can we hope to determine who we will become. Studying the history of nursing not only illuminates our past, it gives contextual perspective to our modern situation and allows us to better prepare for the next generation of challenges as we assert our autonomy and professionalism.
Students interested in historical artifacts should note that the Westerly Hospital (in Westerly, RI) has one of Florence Nightingale’s own nursing caps on display in a case in the main lobby.