She was born in Kansas City, Missouri on Nov. 30, 1897, the fifth of eight children of Daniel B. and Lucy Minor (Abbot) Henderson. Her father was an attorney for Native American Indians. Her mother came from the state of Virginia to which Miss Henderson returned for her early schooling. She was educated at the U.S. Army School of Nursing (1921) and Teachers College, Columbia University where she completed her B.S. (1932) and M.A. (1934), then taught from 1934 until 1948.
Virginia Avenel Henderson died on March 19, 1996 at the age of 98. Her ending had the warmth, style, and graciousness of her life. After partaking chocolate cake and ice cream and saying goodbyes to her family and friends, she passed from one dimension to another. Miss Henderson, and she always preferred Miss to Ms., left behind a quantity of work that is the soul of modern nursing: a definition of nursing with sufficient precision and poetry to become the internationally adopted statement; three of the Principles and Practice of Nursing that elaborated on the knowledge base necessary to act in terms of the definition; a survey and assessment of nursing research that shifted nursing research away from studying nurses to studying the differences that nurses can make in people's lives; and the Nursing Studies Index that captured the intellectual history of the first six decades of the 20th century.
The honors bestowed on Henderson are numerous. Among them are as follows:
- She held honorary degrees from thirteen universities
- She was selected to American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and had the Sigma Theta Tau International Library named in her honor.
- She was honored by the Virginia Nurses Association in 1988 when the Virginia Historical Nurse Leadership Award was presented to her.
- In 2000, the Virginia Nurses Association recognized Henderson as one of fifty-one Pioneer Nurses in Virginia
Virginia Avenel Henderson has been called the "first lady of nursing" and the "first truly international nurse." Her writing, her presentations and her research and contacts with nurses have profoundly affected nursing and impacted the recipients of care by nurses throughout the world. Among them are as follows:
- She began her career in public health nursing in the Henry Street Settlement and in the visiting nurse service in Washington, D.C.
- She was the first full-time instructor in nursing in Virginia when she was at Norfolk Protestant Hospital in Norfolk and was active in the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia. She designed a plan to create district organizations within the state. She was an early advocate for the inclusion of psychiatric nursing in the curriculum and served on a committee to develop such a course at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1929.
- During her years at Teachers College, Columbia University, Henderson was an outstanding teacher and drew students from many countries to study with her. Nurses through the United States studied with her without ever leaving their home schools when her revision of Bertha Harmer's Textbook of the Principles and Practice of Nursing became widely use.
- Other important publications grew out of Henderson's years at Yale University including Nursing Research A Survey and Assessment in collaboration with Leo Simonds. She also directed a twelve-year project entitled Nursing Studies Index, four volumes recognized as an essential reference for many years.
- Her book, Nature of Nursing, published in 1966 expressed her belief about the essence of nursing and influenced the hearts and minds of those who read it.
At the age of 75, Henderson directed her career to international teaching and speaking. This enabled another generation to reap the benefits of contact with this quintessential nurse of the twentieth century.
In 1953, she joined Yale School of Nursing, a particularly fitting association, since the first dean, Annie Warburton Goodrich, had served as her mentor in her early professional years. The Yale years were a time of great productivity.
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Virginia Henderson International Nursing Library Angela Barron McBride, PhD, RN, FAAN, a past president of the society, and former dean at Indiana University School of Nursing wrote the following article in tribute to Miss Henderson which appeared in the First Quarter, 1996 issue of Reflections, a Sigma Theta Tau publication. Below is an edited version of Dr. McBride's tribute. http://www.nursinglibrary.org/portal/main.aspx?PageID=4017