Nursing History Timeline

Modern medicine is a cooperative effort that involves the work of many individuals to help patients beat illness, recover from surgery, understand how to take care of themselves, and more. The role of nurses in this process is invaluable. Licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and others in the nursing profession play a vital role in helping people get well. They are on the frontline of medical care and interact directly with patients more often than any other healthcare professional.

As a formal profession, nursing only goes back to the nineteenth century. Yet that does not mean there was no nursing care before then. In fact, men and women have been doing the work of nursing throughout history, even if the physical, spiritual, and psychological care they offered did not go by the name of nursing. Due to this fact, the history of nursing can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the current era and beyond, although our knowledge of nursing in the earliest centuries is, admittedly, incomplete. This timeline represents a brief overview of the history of nursing and some of the major developments in the field.


First Millennium–Renaissance

Middle 1st Century: Many list the early church deaconess named Phoebe as one whose work included much of what modern nurses do.

Late 4th Century: Saint Fabiola establishes a hospital in Rome where she treats even those with ailments that others feared.

Middle Ages: Hospitals are largely church-run affairs, and these institutions include workers who cared for patients, cleaned rooms, cooked food for residents, and more.

1099: The Knights Hospitaller begin caring for soldiers and pilgrims who take part in the Crusades.

14th Century: During the Black Plague, the Alexian Brothers’ monastic order takes care of the pandemic’s victims in Germany and neighboring countries.


Renaissance to the Present

1633: The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul is established to care for the poor who suffer from illness. Louise de Marillac, one of the order’s founders, trains local women in Paris to care for ill people, which is an early example of nursing education.

1642: Jeanne Mance starts the first hospital in North America (in her home in Montreal, Canada).

1645: The construction of a separate edifice for Mance’s hospital in Montreal begins.

1700s: The first voluntary hospitals are established throughout England.

1750s: Rabia Choraya, a woman who served in the French and Indian war, becomes the head nurse of Morocco’s army.

1783: James Derham, an African-American slave, buys his freedom using wages earned as a nurse. He moves to Philadelphia and begins practicing medicine.

Ca. 1800: Quaker Abolitionist Elisabeth Fry conducts prison reforms that make life easier for inmates. Many consider this an early example of prison nursing.

1836: Theodor and Frederike Fliedner found the Educational Institution for Evangelical Nurses in Germany. Frederike goes on to write a book on nursing care that stresses the importance of caring for the whole person, not just the body.

1840s: American Dorothea Dix advocates improvements in the care for mentally ill patients, prisoners, and others.

1853: Florence Nightingale, a U.K. nurse, becomes the superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewomen. Nightingale goes on to make substantial improvements in hospital sanitation and other areas. She is instrumental in establishing nursing as a professional vocation.

 1854–1856: During the Crimean War, the Russian Orthodox order of women known as The Exaltation of the Cross care for soldiers on the frontline of battle.

1854–1856: Jamaican-born Mary Seacole funds her own participation in the Crimean War as a nurse who helps care for British soldiers. Her contributions to nursing care largely go unrecognized until the present.

1860: At St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, England, the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses opens. This is one of the first professional training schools for nurses. Nightingale’s groundbreaking book, Notes on Nursing, is published the same year.

1881: Clara Barton, a noted U.S. nurse, founds the American Red Cross.

1899: Due to the growth of nursing as a profession around the world, the International Council of Nurses is founded.

1923: The Yale School of Nursing becomes the first official nursing school in the United States with control of its own affairs within a larger university community.

1948: The U.K. healthcare system, including workers such as nurses, comes under government control when the National Health Service is established.

1965: The first professional nurse practitioner training program is established at the University of Colorado.

1992: In Texas, Eddie Bernice Johnson is the first nurse elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.