The History of National Nurses Week

By: Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN, Senior Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive at Nurse.com
Eileen Williamson, RN

Eileen Williamson, RN

Did you know that the week we’ve come to know as National Nurses Week  during the past twenty or so years is actually the result of a process that began more than half a century ago, involved several presidents and proclamations, had a variety of titles and dates, and called for numerous Congressional sponsorships, proposals and resolutions? Since it’s May and this special week is almost here, I thought I’d share a little about its history with you.

In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland from the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare made a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a Nurse Day for the following year. The proclamation was not made, but the next year, a National Nurse Week did take place in observance of the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s Crimean mission. Then a House Representative from Ohio named Frances P. Bolton sponsored a bill for a National Nurse Week, but no action was taken then or during the next two decades. A resolution was presented by the House to President Nixon in 1972 for a National Registered Nurse Day, and still nothing happened. In 1974, after the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed May 12th as International Nurse Day since they’d been celebrating that day for almost a decade, and President Nixon issued a White House proclamation that designated a National Nurse Week, after which New Jersey worked to make the celebration annual, with Governor Brendon Byrne declaring May 6th Nurses Day, and a private citizen named Edward Scanlon working to promote the celebration on his own.

Then in 1981, the ANA and other nursing organizations rallied to support another resolution from nurses in New Mexico through their Congressman, Manuel Lujan to have May 6, 1982 established as National Recognition Day for Nurses. In February, 1982, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, 1982 as National Nurses Day, affirming a joint resolution of Congress that had designated May 6th as National Recognition Day for Nurses. On March 25th that same year President Reagan signed a proclamation proclaiming May 6, 1982 National Recognition Day for Nurses.  In one final step in 1990, ANA’s Board of Directors expanded nurse recognition to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6 – 12, 1991 as National Nurses Week. In 1993 they designated May 6 – 12 as permanent dates for National Nurses Week. Some separate days were added later, including May 6th as National RN Recognition Day, and at the request of the National Student Nurses Association, in 1998, May 8th became National Student Nurses Day. Lastly, in 2003, National School Nurse Day began being celebrated on the Wednesday in National Nurses Week each year.

HAPPY NURSES WEEK TO ALL!

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