Historical background

Professional nursing has started on the turnover of 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and North America. It’s development was influenced by:

  • social, political and economic events and changes around the world,
  • science – in particular biology and medicine – development,
  • Florence Nightingale merits: system nursing education, establishing secular nursing a profession,
  • development of international organizations:

- the Red Cross
- the International Council of Nurses
- the World Health Organization

  • new theories and definitions of health, nursing, care,
  • defining professions, roles, functions and tasks of nurses and midwives.

Second part of the 19th century was the time of research, arts, and technologies development and industrialization, but also of political and economic changes, unrests, wars, race and religious conflicts. Women emancipation movement has begun. Florence Nightingale opened the first secular nursing school in London in 1860. Her reformative attitude has spread around the world during next 50 years. Introduction this model of nursing education in Europe required acceptance of the society, accustomed to religious nurses – catholic or protestant.

Further development of nursing in Europe and around the world was strongly influenced by establishment (on Henry Dunant initiative) of the International Red Cross in 1864. This organization was responsible also for organizing secular nursing schools.

Hospitals training nurses were organized soon. Changes in professional education improved significantly quality of nursing care, and in consequence public understanding of special education for this profession.

Another organization influencing nursing development is the International Council of Nurses, established in 1899. It aimed in establishing national nursing associations, representing the whole profession in the Council, as well as: unification of education system, criteria for recruitment to the profession, developing professional ethics, elaborating legal rules, improving nursing social status, exchange of experiences, enforcement of the profession.

Nurses’ associations were established in different types and conditions. The Americans were particularly engaged and active. In Europe this changes took place much more slowly, because of it’s political, economic, religious, cultural and language differentiation.

At the turnover of 19th and 20th centuries Poland was divided among three powers: Austria, Prussia, and Russia. The Poles’ living conditions, information accessibility, activity were determined by place of living. Cracow, belonging to Austrian annexed territory, received particular privileges: science and arts were vivid, schools and universities were established. The first nursing school, observing modern education rules, was opened here in 1911. However, further openings were hindered by the World War 1st.

In 1918, after 123 years of annexation, Poland regained independence. The state was in very difficult economic situation, having problems with assuring health care for the citizens. However, the world was interested in our country, the American Red Cross supported it with well-qualified nurses, who arrived to organize education and professional development. New nursing schools were established, and professional training started.

We own many the Rockefeller Foundation, which offered nursing scholarships and financial support to the schools. The latter offered humanist education focused on ethical values and national traditions.


Elaboration: Krystyna Wolska-Lipiec