A Brief History of National Nurses Week



National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6th and ends on May 12th – which is actually Florence Nightingale’s birthday. But it wasn’t easy for Nurses to gain the recognition they deserved – it actually took many years and not one, but two Presidential Proclamations!

In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year. Unfortunately, the proclamation was never made.

In 1954, National Nurse Week was observed from October 11 – 16. This particular observance marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored the bill for a nurse week. Apparently, a bill for a National Nurse Week was initially introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action was taken. Congress had discontinued its practice of joint resolutions for national weeks of various kinds.

Again, in 1972, a resolution was presented by the House of Representatives for the President to proclaim “National Registered Nurse Day.” It did not occur.

In January of 1974, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be “International Nurse Day.” (May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale.) Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated “International Nurse Day.”

In February of 1974, a full week was designated by the White House as National Nurse Week, and President Nixon issued a proclamation.

In 1978, New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 as “Nurses Day.”

In 1981, the American Nurses Association, along with various nursing organizations, rallied to support a resolution initiated by nurses in New Mexico, through their Congressman, Manuel Lujan, to have May 6, 1982, established as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”

In February 1982, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, 1982, as “National Nurses Day.” The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.

In 1990, the ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6 – 12, 1991, as National Nurses Week and in 1993 the ANA Board of Directors designated May 6 – 12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), there are around 4 million registered nurses in the United States. As the largest occupation in health care, nurses are integral to hospitals, clinics, and other health care organizations around the nation.

National Nurses Week is an established, annual opportunity to thank those that work in our hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing schools, rehab facilities, skilled nursing homes, and more. We'd be happy to help you develop a unique program or promotion that recognizes the dedication and hard work demonstrated by these frontline workers each and every day.

Want to promote this honorable holiday? Here are some ideas to get started!

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