March 10, 2019 • 1 min
Although the origins of nursing predate the mid-19th century, the history of professional nursing traditionally begins with Florence Nightingale. In Nightingale’s era, the nursing of strangers, either in hospitals or in their homes, was not seen as a respectable career for well-bred ladies, who, if they wished to nurse, were expected to do so only for sick family members and intimate friends. In a radical departure from these views, Nightingale believed that well-educated women, using scientific principles and informed education about healthy lifestyles, could dramatically improve the care of sick patients. Moreover, she believed that nursing provided an ideal independent calling full of intellectual and social freedom for women, who at that time had few other career options. For centuries, most nursing of the sick had taken place at home and had been the responsibility of families, friends, and respected community members with reputations as effective healers. On the other hand, during epidemics, such as cholera, typhus, and smallpox, men took on active nursing roles. For example, Stephen Girard, a wealthy French-born banker, won the hearts of his fellow citizens for his compassionate nursing of the victims of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.