ANA Hall of Fame Inductee
A modern legend in nursing, Virginia A. Henderson has earned the title "foremost nurse of the 20th century." Her contributions are compared to those of Florence Nightingale because of their far-reaching effects on the national and international nursing communities.
She holds twelve honorary doctoral degrees and has received the International Council of Nursing's Christianne Reimann Prize, which is considered nursing's most prestigious award. An inspiration to nurses everywhere, she has influenced nursing practice, education, and research throughout the world.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 30, 1897, Henderson was the fifth of eight children of Lucy Abbot Henderson and Daniel B. Henderson and a descendant of a long line of scholars and educators. In 1901, the family relocated to Virginia where Henderson grew to adulthood. In 1918, she entered the Army School of Nursing in Washington, DC, and received her diploma in 1921.
Henderson's commitment to teaching was evident as early as 1924, when she accepted her first position as an instructor. In 1934, she joined the nursing faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she had earned bachelor of science and master of arts degrees in nursing education, and where she would remain for the next fourteen years. During that period, she revised Bertha Harmer's Textbook of the Principles and Practice of Nursing, which was published in 1939 and has been widely adopted by schools of nursing.
In 1953, Henderson accepted a position at Yale University School of Nursing as research associate for a funded project designed to survey and assess the status of nursing research in the United States. Following completion of the survey, Henderson was funded to direct the Nursing Studies Index Project from 1959 to 1971. The outcome of this project was publication of the four-volume Nursing Studies Index, the first annotated index of nursing research. Henderson was subsequently named research associate emeritus at Yale University, and at age 75, began a new phase of her career focusing on international teaching and speaking engagements. In 1979, the Connecticut Nurses Association established the Virginia Henderson Award for outstanding contributions to nursing research. Henderson was the first to receive this honor.
For more than seventy years, Henderson has been a visible force for nursing across numerous geographic boundaries. A recipient of many awards, the Sigma Theta Tau International Library is named in Henderson's honor. Over time, she has advocated humane and holistic care for patients, raised important issues in health care, authored one of the most accurate definitions of nursing, promoted nursing research as the basis for nursing knowledge, and above all, represented nursing with dignity, honor, and grace.