Origin of Nursing

Woman is an instinctive nurse, taught by Mother Nature. The nurse has always been a necessity, thus lacked social status. In primitive times she was a slave, and in the civilized era a domestic. Overlooked in the plans of legislators, and forgotten in the curricula of pedagogues, she was left without protection and remained without education. She was not an artisan who could obtain the help of a hereditary guild; there was no Hanseatic League for nurses. Drawn from the nameless and numberless army of poverty, the nurse worked as a menial and obeyed as a servant. Denied the dignity of a trade, a devoid of professional ethics, she could not rise above the degradation of her environment. It never occurred to the Aristotles of the past that it would be safer for the public welfare if nurses were educated instead of lawyers. The untrained nurse is as old as the human race; the trained nurse is a recent discovery. The distinction between the two is a sharp commentary on the follies and prejudices of mankind. - VICTOR ROBINSON

Donahue, M. Patricia, PhD, RN, FAAN, Nursing The Finest Art - An Illustrated History, 2nd Edition, 1996, Mosby - Yearbook

Nursing has been called the oldest of arts and the youngest of professions (Donahue,1996). The history of nursing is synonymous with the history of woman. The connotations of the word nurse has changed over the course of history. The words nurse and nursing have many meanings. The word nursing itself is derived from the Latin nutrire "to nourish". The word nurse has its roots in the Latin noun nutrix which means "nursing mother", often referring to a wet nurse (a woman who breast fed the babies of others). The French term nourrice also referred to a woman who suckled a child. The original meaning of the English word was the same and the term first used in English in the 13th century and its spelling underwent many forms, norrice, nurice or nourice,to the present, nurse.

Other dimensions were added to its meaning throughout the evolution of the word - "a woman who cares for and tends to young children". By the 16th century the meanings of the noun included "a person, but usually a woman who waits upon or tends to the sick". Two more components were added during the 19th century "training of those who tend to the sick and carrying out of such duties under direction of a physician".

Women because of maternal instinct were considered "born nurses". The parental instinct, however, is present in both sexes of all races. It is thought that women present a greater degree of this due to their traditional role in the family. Yet the spirit of nursing has no sexual boundaries. Human beings of both sexes have a natural tendency to repond to helplessness or a threat to life from disease or injury (Donahue, 1996).

The role of nurse expanded to care of the sick, infirm, aged, handicapped as well as health promotion. In ancient periods woman cared for her own family. As the evolution of nursing continued she took care of members in her own tribe. With the development of early civilizations nursing began to be performed outside the home.

The development of nursing depended on two additional ingredients: skill and expertise, and knowledge (Donahue, 1996). Emphasis on the necessity of a knowledge base began to emerge as more and more information about diseases and illnesses became available. Nursing had become both an art and a science. The head, the heart, and the hands have united to become modern day nursing's foundation.

Nursing continues to grow and evolve. Nursing is based on society's needs and therefore exists only because of society's need for such a service. It is difficult for nursing to rise above society's expectations, limitations, resources, and culture of the current age.

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