Virginia Avenel Henderson was described in so many names. Some called her “The Nightingale of Modern Nursing”. Others named her as “Modern-Day Mother of Nursing” and “The 20th Century Florence Nightingale”. She was born on November 30, 1897 in Kansas, Missouri and was the fifth of eight children of Daniel Brosius Henderson and Lucy Minor Abbot..

 The Henderson family moved to Virginia in 1901, where Miss Henderson grew into adulthood. In 1918, she entered the Army School of Nursing in Washington, DC, and in 1921, she received her nursing diploma. She worked at the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service for 2 years after graduation. Henderson, very much wanted to teach nursing, therefore accepted her first instructor position in 1924 at the Norfolk Protestant Hospital in Virginia.

In 1934 and for the next fourteen years, she remained at tTeachers College, Columbia University where she joined the teacher's faculty and earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degree in nursing education.

  In 1953, Henderson accepted a research associate position in Yale University School of Nursing. The project was designed to survey and assess the status of nursing research in the United States. From 1959 to 1971, Henderson was funded to direct the Nursing Studies Index Project. The result of the project was the publication of the four-volume Nursing Studies Index, the first annotated index of nursing research. Henderson had now deserved the title of research associate emeritus at Yale University. At 75 years of age, Henderson focused her career on international teaching and speaking engagements.


She is a recipient of numerous recognitions for her outstanding contributions to nursing.
  • well known nursing educator and a prolific author.
  • received honorary doctoral degrees from the Catholic University of America, Pace University, University of Rochester, University of Western Ontario,Yale University
  • warranted an obituary in the New York Times, Friday March 22. 1996.
  • honored at the Annual Meeting of the Nursing and Allied Health Section of the Medical Library Association In 1985.

In 1937 Henderson and others created a basic nursing curriculum for the National League for Nursing in which education was “patient centered and organized around nursing problems rather than medical diagnoses” (Henderson,1991)

In 1939, she revised: Harmer’s classic textbook of nursing for its 4th edition, and later wrote the 5th; edition, incorporating her personal definition of nursing (Henderson,1991)

Although she was retired, she was a frequent visitor to nursing schools well into her 90’s. O’Malley (1996) states that Henderson is known as the modern-day mother of nursing.

Her work influenced the nursing profession in America and throughout the world. The founding members of ICIRN (Interagency Council on Information Resources for Nursing) and a passionate advocate for the use and sharing of health information resources.

In 1978 the fundamental concept of nursing was revisited by Virginia Henderson from Yale University School of Nursing (USA).

1956 (with B. Harmer)-Textbook for the principles and practices of Nursing.
1966-The Nature of Nursing. A definition and its implication for practice, Research and Education
1991- The Nature of Nursing Reflections after 20 years
Analysis of Nursing Theory Images of Nursing, 1950-1970

The Development of Henderson’s Definition of nursing

Two events are the basis for Henderson’s development of a definition of nursing.

First, she participated in the revision of a nursing textbook. Second, she was concerned that many states had no provision for nursing licensure to ensure safe and competent care for the consumer.

In the revision she recognized the need to be clear about the functions of the nurse and she believed that this textbook serves as a main learning source for nursing practice should present a sound and definitive description of nursing. Furthermore, the principles and practice or nursing must be built upon and derived from the definition of the profession. Although official statements on the nursing function were published by the ANA in 1932 and 1937, Henderson viewed these statements as nonspecific and unsatisfactory definitions of nursing practice. Then in 1955, the earlier ANA definition was modified. Henderson's focus on individual care is evident in that she stressed assisting individuals with essential activities to maintain health, to recover, or to achieve peaceful death. She proposed 14 components of basic nursing care to augment her definition. In 1955, Henderson’s first definition of nursing was published in Bertha Harmer’s revised nursing textbook.

To her the unique fucntion of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery(or to peaceful death), that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge.



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