ANA Hall of Fame Inductee
Agnes K. Ohlson was born on February 20, 1902, in New Britain, Connecticut, the second of four children of Swedish immigrants, Johannes and Karlina Nelson Ohlson. Ohlson graduated from Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital School of Nursing in 1926. For the next five years, she held various nursing positions at hospitals in Massachusetts.
In 1931, she received a bachelor of science degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, and was employed as director of nursing at Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut. While in this position, she held office on the board of directors of the Connecticut Nurses Association and was recommended for appointment to the Connecticut State Board of Examiners for Nursing in 1935. The following year, Ohlson became permanent secretary and chief examiner for the board and remained in that position until she retired in 1963. During that period, she earned a master of arts degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Ohlson joined the American Nurses Association early in her career and attended meetings where problems surrounding state testing for licensure were discussed. At that time, each state developed its own licensing examination, but prevailing inconsistencies in those examinations generated questions regarding their effectiveness. At issue also was concern about the difficulties underlying interstate mobility for nurses because of testing discrepancies. Troubled by disparities in the testing of candidates for registered nurse licensure in Connecticut and elsewhere, Ohlson requested the American Nurses Association to convene a meeting of state board representatives from across the country. That group eventually became a committee of the association which, together with a similar committee established by the National League of Nursing Education, worked to effect the first national qualifying examination for nurse licensure in the U.S. Between 1944 and 1950, the State Board Test Pool Examination gradually became the accepted testing model for all states. Ohlson played a vital role in forming the coalition and developing the examination.
Highly respected by national and international colleagues, Ohlson served organized nursing with distinction. Between 1950 and 1958, she held the office of secretary followed by the office of president of the American Nurses Association. In 1957, she was elected president of the International Council of Nurses. She also held various elected positions in Connecticut's professional nursing organizations. An eminent leader of the nursing profession, Ohlson received many honors during her lifetime. In 1980, she became the first recipient of the Agnes K. Ohlson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing through Political Action, which was established in her honor by the Connecticut Nurses Association.