History of National Nurses Week
The first-ever National Nurse Week was actually observed in October 1954, honoring the 100th anniversary of Nightingale's work in Crimea. According to the National Institutes of Health, in 1954, under the authorization of Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of War, Nightingale brought a team of 38 volunteer nurses to care for the British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War.
At the time, wounded soldiers were commonly afflicted with diseases like typhus, typhoid, cholera and dysentery.
“Nightingale's accomplishments during the disastrous years the British army experienced in the Crimea were largely the result of her concern with sanitation and its relation to mortality, as well as her ability to lead, to organize, and to get things done,” an NIH report stated. It was her work in Crimea that eventually earned her the name, “the Lady with the Lamp,” referring to her nightly lamplit rounds and angelic service that helped bring public health to the forefront of medical research.
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In 1955, according to the ANA, a bill for a National Nurse Week was introduced to Congress but went nowhere.
It wasn’t until January 1974, after yet another failed resolution (for National Registered Nurse Day), that the International Council of Nurses officially proclaimed May 12, Nightingale’s birthday, “International Nurse Day.”
President Richard Nixon declared the first official National Nurses Week in February.
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According to the ANA, New Jersey was the first American state to celebrate May 6 as “Nurses Day.” Three years later, ANA would rally with other organizations to support a New Mexico resolution to establish the date as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
In 1982, the ANA Board of Directors made a formal acknowledgment of May 6 as “National Nurses Day.” That year, former President Ronald Reagan also signed a proclamation for May 6 to be “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” In the end, it was a joint resolution between Congress and the ANA.
National Nurses Week as we know it today (celebrated between May 6-May 12) was introduced in 1990 by the ANA for the following year.
And finally, in 1993, the ANA Board of Directors designated the dates May 6-May 12 “permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.”