Memorial for Nursing Pioneer Virginia Henderson

A memorial service will be held on Monday, May 6, for Virginia A. Henderson, a long-time researcher at the School of Nursing whose textbooks are used worldwide. Ms. Henderson died March 19 in Branford. She was 98 years old. The service will take place at 4 p.m. in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets.

A senior research associate emeritus at Yale, Ms. Henderson wrote three editions of “Principles and Practice of Nursing,” a textbook used by nurse educators throughout the country for much of this century. Ms. Henderson took the textbook project over from Bertha Hammer, who wrote the first three editions of the volume, which came to be referred to as “Hammer and Henderson’s Nursing Text.” The volumes underscore the importance of nurse researchers, replacing texts that stressed routine nursing techniques.

Ms. Henderson defined the functions of nurses as “assisting individuals, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health, or its recovery or to a peaceful death, that they would perform unaided if they had the necessary strength, will or knowledge.” This credo was the basis for two of her most widely published books: “Basic Principles of Nursing” 1960, 1972 and “The Nature of Nursing” 1966.

After joining Yale’s School of Nursing in 1953 as a research associate, Ms. Henderson began a 19-year project to review nursing literature. She produced “Nursing Research: Survey and Assessment” coauthor Leo Simmons and “Nursing Studies Index.” She believed her work on the latter project was the most important contribution she made to her profession. The project was instrumental in the establishment of a classification system to facilitate library research in the disciplines of medicine and nursing and was also instrumental in the Yale School of Nursing’s formation of research teams, an action which made the school a focal point for intellectual and practical advances in the nursing profession.

“Ms. Henderson spent the last four decades of her career and life at Yale, and we are blessed to have had such a special relationship with her,” says Judith Krauss, dean of the School of Nursing. “Her passing marks the end of an era in nursing leadership. But she leaves us all a rich legacy to follow. We will forever remember her as ‘Everynurse.’”

A proponent of publicly financed, universally accessible health services, Ms. Henderson also asserted that nurses should have a more active role in primary care. She advocated involving people in their own care and eliminating medical jargon in health records.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Ms. Henderson attended the U.S. Army School of Nursing. Her mentor there was Annie W. Goodrich, who headed the Army School and later became the first dean of Yale’s School of Nursing. Ms. Henderson practiced public health visiting nursing in New York City and Washington, D.C. before becoming a nurse educator at the Norfolk Virginia Protestant Hospital School of Nursing. She returned to New York in 1929 to pursue further education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, where she earned her B.S. and M.A. in 1932 and 1934, respectively, before joining their nursing faculty.

Ms. Henderson was a member of the American Nurses Association and other professional organizations. She was a consultant to the National Library of Medicine and the American Journal of Nursing Company and was consulted on the establishment of nursing schools around the world. An honorary fellow of the Royal College of Nursing and the American Academy of Nursing, Ms. Henderson received many awards, including the first Christianne Reimann Prize for the International Council of Nurses and the Merit Award from the National Association of Nurses of Columbia, South America. She was granted numerous honorary degrees including one from Yale, 1982 for her contributions to the nursing profession.

Ms. Henderson is survived by a sister, Frances Houff of Lynchburg, Virginia, four nieces and a nephew, and several grand nieces and nephews. The family has requested that memorial contributions be sent to the Virginia Henderson Fund, Yale University School of Nursing, P.O. Box 9740, New Haven, CT 06536-0740.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325