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Brush up on the history of National Nurses Week

Established more than 40 years ago, National Nurses Week is now a well-known national, annual healthcare event.

A wide variety of programs take place in all 50 states beginning May 6 with National Nurses Day and ending May 12 on the birthday of Florence Nightingale.

This week honors nurses who work in all different areas of clinical practice, education, advanced practice, ambulatory care, the community and others. So how did it begin?

Top historical highlights about National Nurses Week from the American Nurses Association:

1953: Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a proposal to President Dwight D. Eisenhower to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made.

1954: National Nurse Week was observed from Oct. 11-16. The year of the observance marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. U.S. Rep. Frances P. Bolton (R-Ohio) sponsored a bill for a Nurse Week. Apparently, a bill for a National Nurse Week was introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action was taken. After 1955, Congress discontinued its practice of joint resolutions for national weeks of various kinds.

1972: A resolution was presented by the House of Representatives for President Richard Nixon to proclaim “National Registered Nurse Day.” It did not occur.

1974: In January, the International Council of Nurses proclaimed that May 12 would be “International Nurse Day.” May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, and since 1965, the council has celebrated “International Nurse Day.”

1974: In February, a week was designated by the White House as National Nurse Week, and President Nixon issued a proclamation.

1978: New Jersey Gov. Brendon Byrne declared May 6 as “Nurses Day.” Edward Scanlan of Red Bank, N.J., took up the cause to perpetuate the recognition of nurses in his state. Scanlan had this date listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events and promoted the celebration on his own.

1981:  The American Nurses Association, along with various nursing organizations, rallied to support a resolution initiated by nurses in New Mexico, through one of their Congressmen, Manuel Lujan, to have May 6, 1982, established as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”

1982: In February, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6 as “National Nurses Day.” The action affirmed a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”

1982: President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25 proclaiming “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.

1990: The ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6-12, 1991, as National Nurses Week.

1993: The ANA Board of Directors designated May 6-12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.

1996: The ANA initiated “National RN Recognition Day” on May 6, 1996, to honor the nation’s indispensable registered nurses for their tireless commitment 365 days a year.

Happy National Nurses Week!


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Florence Nightingale: Connecting Her Legacy to With Local-to-Global Health Today
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Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) created an indelible legacy for her profession: modern nursing. As a nurse, Nightingale challenged other nurses and leaders on every continent to raise their concerns for human health. This module explains how today’s nurses can become healthier, and can lead and participate in achieving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030).

By | 2019-05-10T21:07:25+00:00 May 8th, 2019|Categories: Nurses stories, Nursing careers and jobs, Nursing education|0 Comments

About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is a former senior vice president and CNE at OnCourse Learning, where she led nursing programs and initiatives. She continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of the system’s member hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in administration, and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. She also is a board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing.

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