History Overview

Historical Overview

The School of Nursing was founded in 1909 as the nation’s first continuously operated university-based school of nursing. In 1909 there were 1,129 schools of nursing in the country, all located within hospitals. Hospital-based nursing education was the accepted norm until the middle of the twentieth century.

The University of Minnesota School for Nurses (as it was known until 1920) was created largely due to the efforts of Dr. Richard Olding Beard, a professor of physiology in the University of Minnesota Medical School who recognized the value of nursing and believed in professional education for women.

Initially, the school offered a three-year program in which four students were enrolled the first year. In 1919, a five-year program leading to a baccalaureate degree in nursing began. The shorter non-degree program continued until 1947.

A comprehensive summary of the School of Nursing’s history is chronicled in Leading the Way, The School of Nursing 1909 to 2009 (Edited by Laurie K. Glass) which was commissioned to commemorate the school’s first 100 years. This and other historical materials can be obtained through the Alumni Society’s Heritage Committee.

History by Decade

Expand all

2010 - Future

Bentson Healthy Communities Innovation Center simulation room
  • The School of Nursing’s new 11,000 square foot learning center opened. The Bentson Healthy Communities Innovation Center was designed, constructed, furnished with state-of-the art technology.
  • The School of Nursing ranked 15th among schools of nursing nationally in National Institutes of Health funding for nursing research in 2013. This is the highest such ranking in the school’s history.
  • The School of Nursing led the development of a collaborative framework integrating the nursing leadership of the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Children’s Hospital, University of Minnesota Physicians and the School of Nursing designed to share information and identify collaborative efforts to improve the quality of care, student clinical experiences and nursing education programs.
  • The School of Nursing received the largest gift in its history, $10 million over 10 years to expand the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. The Bentson Foundation gift of scholarships, combined with institutional support of $2 million, supports program growth to address shortages in primary care.
  • The School of Nursing and the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Health Care System were awarded a $5.3 million competitive grant that enabled a significant expansion of the BSN program in the Twin Cities by 20 students per grade. The five-year grant from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs supports program growth of 20 students and provides funding for additional 10 faculty and coordination of student clinical placements at the VA, where nursing students gain unique skills and insights into the unique health challenges facing veterans and their families.
  • The School of Nursing became one of seven inaugural research partner with Optum Labs, the collaborative research and innovation center founded by Optum and Mayo Clinic. The School of Nursing was the only school of nursing in the country to participate in the first two years. Partners were provided access to information resources, proprietary analytical tools and scientific expertise to help drive the discovery of new applications, testing of new care pathways and other opportunities to drive innovation in wellness care delivery.


  • School of Nursing added the Vincent Endowed Chair in Public Health Nursing, which now brings the School's total of endowed faculty Chairs and Professorships to six.
  • School of Nursing Dean Connie White Delaney signed agreements with the chancellors of the University of Minnesota Morris, University of Minnesota Crookston, University of Minnesota Duluth and University Minnesota Rochester completing a collaborative framework for enrollment of qualified graduates in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing’s Master of Nursing program.

2000 - 2009

nurse in library


  • Joanne Disch was appointed the director of the Densford Center for Leadership and the first Katherine and C. Walton Lillehei Chair in Nursing Leadership.
  • Did you know that in 2000 the Public Health Nursing program was ranked 7th in the country by U.S. News & World Report?


  • The BSN program was established on the Rochester campus with 14 students.
  • 2002: The Post-Baccalaureate certificate program admitted 20 non-nursing college graduates to the program.


  • Connie White Delaney was appointed the fifth dean (the 10th leader of the school).
  • Graduation Memories by Nikki (Patnode) Read


  • The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) first class was admitted. The school offered the Doctor of Nursing Practice specialties in nursing informatics, integrative health and healing and health innovation and leadership.
  • Transitioned the post-baccalaureate certificate in nursing program to a professional Master of Nursing degree program and expanded enrollment.
  • The Minnesota Hartford Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence was established with a one million dollar grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation.
  • Did you know that the Centennial Celebration was held in 2009 to honor the School’s rich history? 100 distinguished alumni were selected.

1990 - 1999

nurse with a mother and her newborn


  • After serving as an interim dean for one year, Sandra Edwardson was appointed fourth dean succeeding Ellen Fahy.
  • The Public Health Nursing program was transferred to the School of Nursing from the School of Public Health.
  • Did you know that since 1990, the School of Nursing has been a national leader in research for long term care of the elderly? The Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist and Nurse Practitioner programs were introduced in 1991.


  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program was added to the curriculum.
  • Did you know that in 1992 a partnership was established with Moorhead State University to offer graduate nursing courses for the purpose of educating nurses for health care delivery in the rural areas and serving Native American and immigrant populations?


  • The Family Nurse Practitioner program was added and the faculty practice plan approved.
  • The Center for Adolescent Nursing was created, the only international federally funded center for those who specialize in adolescent health.
  • The Center for Children with Special Health Care Needs was established with support from the federal government.
  • The Katherine J. Densford International Center for Leadership in Nursing opened in 1997.


  • The School received a grant for distance education. Five courses were delivered offsite by televideo and the internet.
  • Unit F was renamed the Weaver Densford Hall that houses the College of Pharmacy and the School of Nursing.


  • Complementary care graduate studies minor was approved. Did you know that it was the first in the country? This interdisciplinary program was housed in the School of Nursing for 3 years before moving to the Center for Spirituality and Healing in the Academic Health Center.

1980 - 1989

Breaking ground on new Weaver-Densford Hall


  • Ellen Fahy was appointed the third Dean.
  • The nursing doctoral program proposal was submitted to the Graduate School. It was approved in 1982.
  • The first development officer was appointed.


  • The school moved to Unit F (shared with Pharmacy). The building was later named Weaver-Densford Hall.


  • The funding for the Cora Meidl Siehl Chair in Nursing Research for Improved Patient Care raised awareness of the research potential in the school. In 1984 Sue K. Donaldson was named the first chair.
  • Did you know that the first PhD student in nursing graduated in 1987?
  • Did you know that upper division curriculum changes occurred in 1988? It included studying acute care in the junior year, community health senior year, and a Critical Care course during the summer.


  • The Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) celebration was held.
  • Did you know that in 1981, 34 of the 50 faculty were engaged in research?


1970 - 1979

pediatric nurse measuring head circumference


    • The last capping ceremony held at the time of graduation.
    • Did you know that in 1973-1974 the School created a task force to study the feasibility of a doctoral nursing program at the University?
    • Class of 1971 Memories by Jane Covey Hovland (PDF)


    • The Nurse Midwifery program was established.


    • Irene Ramey was appointed the second dean of the school. She succeeded M. Isabel Harris.


    • Planning and fundraising for a new building was under way.


    • Inez Hinsvark was appointed acting dean after Irene Ramey’s death.

    1960 - 1969

    Class reunion alumni from the 1960s


    • First research in nursing course taught by visiting faculty.


    • Transition to students no longer providing nursing service to the hospital in exchange for room and board.



    • Psychiatric nursing is the first clinical area in the Master of Science program in the Graduate School.


    • Masters degree in medical surgical nursing offered.
    • The Public Health Nurse Practitioner program with a masters degree was established in the School of Public Health.



    • The Health Sciences unit was created within the University. M. Isabel Harris appointed acting Dean of the School of Nursing and became the first dean in 1970.

    1950 - 1959

    Nursing students dining in the 1950s


    • A master’s degree in nursing administration begins.
    • Did you know that in 1954 the school established a working relationship with Seoul National University that still exists today? The school faculty assisted in the rehabilitation of nursing education in Korea after the Korean War.
    • Did you know that Elva Walker Spillane was the first president of the School of Nursing Foundation that was established by Katherine Densford in 1958 as an independent foundation? The school was one of the first to have its own foundation. Later joined with the University of Minnesota Foundation.



    • Katherine Densford retired as director after 29 years leading the school.
    • Edna L. Fritz was appointed director to succeed Katharine Densford.
    • The school’s fiftieth anniversary was celebrated.
    • Friendships Built at the U (Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017)
    • Memories by Joy Shin (PDF)

    1940 - 1949

    1940 nursing classroom
    • Did you know that in 1943 the WK Kellogg Foundation supported a program that delivered nursing services to rural Minnesota? Over the years, the school has been a national leader in delivery of care to people in rural areas.
    • Did you know that during World War II, the school of nursing trained the largest group of nurses in the nation for the US Cadet Nurse Corps of the US Public Health Service? 1215 nurses were trained. By 1945 the US Cadet Corps nurses were providing 85% of nursing care in US hospitals.







    • The first four men were admitted as nursing students about 10 years ahead of the rest of the nation. There were six men in the state who were RNs.

    1930 - 1939

    nursing student studying in the 1930s
    • Katherine Densford was appointed Director of Nurses, succeeding Marion L. Vannier.
    • Graduate courses in clinical fields were created and offered for Registered Nurses.


    • The Kardex patient treatment and medication system was created.


    • Ward based clinical instruction was introduced by Myrtle Hodgkins Coe.
    • The Group method of rotating students to clinical services was introduced.


    • The Nurses Hall was dedicated. Did you know that it was later named Powell Hall in honor of Louise Powell in 1939. This was the first time the university named a building after a living person.
    • Did you know that a School of Nursing alumnus, Ellen Church, was the first Boeing flight nurse and had the idea of airline attendants? She hired the first 8 stewardesses in 1930.


    • The School of Nursing used photographs and later, motion pictures to teach nursing procedures.

    1920 - 1929

    nursing students from the 1920s on outside steps


    • April 14; Regents authorize a new name for the School for Nurses: the School of Nursing.
    • Did you know that the first Nursing Alumnae Quarterly magazine was published in 1920.


    • The School of Nursing had 157 graduates.


    • Marion L. Vannier succeeded Powell as director of the school.


    • Deborah MacLurg introduced the case method of assignments to the nursing students.
    • 1925 Alumna Memories (PDF)


    • Marion Vannier and Barbara Thompson publish the first edition of A Textbook of Nursing Techniques.

    1909 - 1919

    1909 nursing graduates
    • The first students were admitted to the three year nursing program.
    • Did you know that the University of Minnesota School of Nursing remains the longest continuously operating university nursing program in the world?
    • Did you know that the School of Nursing existed for two years before the University’s hospital opened? The hospital was built and opened in 1911. Before that two houses were used on campus as hospital buildings.
    • The first director was Bertha Erdman 1909-1910. She retired from her position after developing Tuberculosis.


    • September 10; Louise M. Powell was appointed director of nurses.


    • Convened first official meeting of the Alumnae Association of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing – now known as the Nursing Alumni Society.


    • World War I -Navy Corpsman were trained by the school.
    • The School for Nurses supported the University hospital in the organization of a unit of nurses and surgeons to train together and to serve overseas during WWI (Base Hospital 26). Every head nurse at the University hospital joined the unit and provided most of the teaching.
    • Louise Powell became the acting superintendent of the University hospital in addition to her directorship and teaching duties in the School for Nurses because Dr. Baldwin, the superintendent went to the surgeon general's office in Washington, D.C.


    • The first courses in public health nursing were offered.


    • A five year program was established resulting in the Baccalaureate degree. Three years for Nursing and an additional two years for the college degree.
    • 1919 Nursing Memories (PDF)