This primer is intended to help students find resources in nursing history. Graduate students and researchers are referred to Bibliography for Historical Methodology.

As when searching for information on any topic, always turn first to your library's holdings. Then talk with the reference librarian. Articles published on nursing history will be indexed in the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL, the big red index). The Nursing Studies Index, 1900-1959 is helpful when looking for material published during the first half of the century. Nursing History Review , the official journal of the American Association for the History of Nursing, is an annual publication of historical research. Other journals may periodically publish an issue devoted to nursing history.

If searching for biographical information on a specific nurse, also refer to the nursing biographies (see list below) then to the biographical dictionaries or the general biographical dictionaries.

When the topic is broad, such as changes in the nursing role over the past century, you will need to do a considerable amount of background reading to understand the role of a nurse at various times in the past. Start off by reading one of the nursing history textbooks. It may be illuminating to read some of the early nursing journals, such as the American Journal of Nursing (AJN), which began in 1900, and skim through some articles from the early years.   Anniversary years of the AJN, (1925, 1950, 1975) frequently featured articles on how nursing changed.

There are numerous nursing history resources on the Internet; unfortunately some of these are not adequately documented. Students are reminded to always cite sources! For a listing of some nursing history resources on the Internet see the AAHN Internet Resources page.


The History Guide was created for the high school and undergraduate student who is either taking classes in history, or who intends to major in history in college. A Student's Guide to the Study of History, What is History? and Resources for Historians are available.
The History Guide



Birnbach, N., Lewenson, S. (Eds.). (1996). Legacy of leadership.New York: National League for Nursing.

Birnbach, N., Lewenson, S. (Eds). (1991). First words. Selected addresses from the National League for Nursing 1894-1933. New York: National League for Nursing.

Brush, B. Lynaugh, J.E., Boschma, G., Rafferty, A.M., Stuart, M., & Tomes, N.J. (1999). Nurses of all nations: A history of the International Council of Nurses, 1899-1999. Hagerstown, MD: Lippincott Williams & Jenkins.

Bullough, V.L., Church, O.M.,& Stein, A.P. (Eds.). (1988). American nursing: A biographical dictionary. New York: Garland.

Bullough, V.L., Sentz, L. & Stein, A.P. (Eds.). (1992). American nursing: A biographical dictionary. Vol. II. New York: Garland.

Bullough, V.L.& Sentz, L. (Eds.). (2000). American nursing: A biographical dictionary. Vol III. New York: Springer.

Carnegie, M.E. (1995). The path we tread: Blacks in nursing 1854-1994. 3rd Edition. New York: National League for Nursing.

Dolan, J., Fitzpatrick, M.L., Herrmann, E. (1983). Nursing in society: A historical perspective. 15th Ed. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

Donahue, M. P. (1995). Nursing: The finest art. 2nd edition. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby.

Fairman, J., Lynaugh, J.E. (1998). Critical Care Nursing : A History Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Fitzpatrick, M.L. (1983). Prologue to professionalism. Bowie, MD: Brady.

Flanagan, L. (1976). One strong voice. The story of the American Nurses Association. Kansas City, MO: American Nurses Association.

Kalisch, B. Kalisch, P. (2003). The advance of American nursing. 4th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Kaufman, M. (Ed.). (1988). Dictionary of American nursing biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Keeling, A. (2007). Nursing and the Privilege of Prescription, 1893-2000 Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Lewenson, S. B., Herrmann, E.K. (2007). Capturing nursing history. New York: Springer Publishing.

Lewenson, S. (1993). Taking charge: Nursing suffrage and feminism, 1893-1920. New York: National League for Nursing.

Melosh, B. (1982). The physician's hand. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Mortimer, B.E., McGann, S. (2005) New directions in the History of Nursing. New York: Routledge Publishing.

Norman, E.M. (1999). We band of angels: The untold story of American nurses trapped on Bataan by the Japanese.New York: Random House.

O'Lynn, C.O. ; Tranbarger, R. (2006). Men in Nursing History, Challenges, and Opportunities. New York: Springer Publishing.

Robinson, Thelma M., & Perry, Paulie M. (2001). Cadet Nurse Stories. The call for and response of women during World War II. Indianapolis, IN: Center Nursing Publishing.

Robinson, Thelma M. (2005). Nisei Cadet Nurse of World War II. Patriotism in Spite of Prejudice. Boulder, CO: Black Swan Mill Press.

Reverby, S. (1987). Ordered to care: The dilemma of American nursing 1850-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schorr, T. & Kennedy, M.S. (1999). 100 years of American nursing: Celebrating a century of caring. Hagerstown, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Williamson, L. (Ed.). (1999). Florence Nightingale and the Birth of Professional Nursing. London: Thoemmes Press.