NEW YORK NURSE: March 2011
On April 16 and 17, 1901, 56 nurses from throughout New York state gathered at City Hall in Albany to form a statewide organization to advocate for the profession of nursing.
“We have met here to form a New York State Nurses’ Association, the object of which shall be to help those of us already in the work to be broader, more intelligent, more useful; to help us grow…” said Sylveen V. Nye, chair of the State Committee on Organizing a Convention, in her address to the group.
“We believe the proper means of attaining the desired purpose is by suitable legislation: not legislation by a few for a few, but legislation that will affect all nurses and hospitals beneficially, that will bring about better teaching, better conditions for all nurses, better nursing for all classes of people, and legal recognition of our profession.”
Despite the long hours, back-breaking work, and poor pay, nursing was at the time one of the few professions open to women, and would-be nurses flocked to training schools. The emerging profession offered stimulating, rewarding work, and a rare opportunity for independence.
The larger nursing schools, concerned about the disparities in the quality of training programs, formed the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses in 1893, which today is the National League for Nursing. They identified the need for nursing to control its own educational standards and promote unification.
The Nurses’ Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada – later the American Nurses Association – was established in 1896 to tackle a broader range of problems. Nursing training had gained widespread acceptance, but untrained nurses continued to dominate the workforce, and the public was unaware of the distinction between the two groups.
Although a state organization for trained nurses had been suggested as early as 1889, it was 10 years before nursing leaders became alarmed enough about the need for state legislation to take definite steps.
In 1899, two Rochester nurses, Sophia Palmer and Eva Allerton, presented papers on “State Registration for Nurses” at a meeting of the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs. Palmer stated that “The greatest need in the nursing profession today is a law that shall place training schools for nurses under the supervision of the University of the State of New York.”
When the Nurses Associated Alumnae gathered in New York for its third annual convention in 1900, Isabel Hampton Robb used her president’s address as an “opportunity to hold a general review of our forces” – to look at the past and the present in order to plan for the future.
After the meeting, a committee was formed to arrange for a statewide meeting. “We want it to be an institution that will endure as long as the profession and the State,” Nye wrote. “We should progress slowly to work wisely and judiciously. Give every step careful consideration and opportunity for discussion.”A year later, nurses arrived in Albany from New York City, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Albany, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Buffalo, Saratoga, Jamestown, Utica, Ogdensburg, Middletown, and Gloversville. On their second day they passed a motion to form the first state nurses’ association in the nation.
Its constitution stated its goal was “the advancement of the educational standard of nursing; the furtherance of the efficient care of the sick; the maintenance of the honor and character of the nursing profession; also the furtherance of cordial relations between the New York State nurses and the nurses of other States and countries.”
NYSNA still holds true to these principles today. A special historical calendar was included in the December 2010 edition of New York Nurse to celebrate our anniversary.
This article consists of excerpts from Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future: A History of the New York State Nurses Association, by Julie M. Pavri, former associate librarian for NYSNA and former archivist for the Foundation of the New York State Nurses Association.