Virginia Henderson Biography

Virginia Henderson BiographyVirginia Henderson has been called the “First Lady of Nursing” and the “First Truly International Nurse”. Her writing, presentations, research, and contacts with nurses have profoundly affected nursing and gave an impression on the recipients of care by nurses throughout the world.

Virginia Henderson was born in Kansas City, Missouri on November 30, 1897, the fifth of eight children of Daniel B. and Lucy Minor (Abbot) Henderson. Her father was an attorney for Native American Indians.  She Received a Diploma in Nursing from the Army School of Nursing at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C. in 1921 and worked at the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service for 2 years after graduation. In 1923, she accepted a position teaching nursing at the Norfolk Protestant Hospital in Virginia, where she remained for several years.  In 1929, Henderson determined that she needed more education and entered Teachers College at Columbia University where she earned her; Bachelor’s Degree in 1932, Master’s Degree in 1934. Subsequently, she joined Columbia as a member of the faculty, where she remained until 1948. Since 1953, she has been a research associate at Yale University School of Nursing.

The honors bestowed on Henderson are numerous. To mention just a few, she held honorary degrees from thirteen universities; she was selected to the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and had the Sigma Theta Tau International Library named in her honor. She was honored by the Virginia Nurses Association in 1988 when the Virginia Historical Nurse Leadership Award was presented to her. In 2000, the Virginia Nurses Association recognized Henderson as one of the fifty –one Pioneer Nurses in Virginia.

Virginia Avenel Henderson died March 19, 1996 at the age of 98 and left behind a corpus of work that is the soul of modern nursing: a definition of nursing with sufficient precision and poetry to become the internationally adopted statement of who we are; three of the Principles and Practice of Nursing that elaborated on the knowledge base necessary to act in terms of the definition; a survey and assessment of nursing research that shifted nursing research away from studying nurses to studying the differences that nurses can make in people’s lives; the Nursing Studies Index that captured the intellectual history of the first six decades of the 20th century.


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