The Founding of the Museum of Nursing History


The Museum of Nursing History evolved from a one-day celebration of nurses at the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia on May 10, 1974, into a Bicentennial Nursing Project in 1976. A group of prominent nurses and friends of nursing collected artifacts and memorabilia from area nurses and schools of nursing to establish the first Museum of Nursing History and Library in Philadelphia, and they became its first Board of Directors.

1974 Museum of Nursing History

Image courtesy Jimmy Emerson, DVM


Acquisitions at the Mütter Museum grew, and space was limited, so Dr. Robert Cathcart of Pennsylvania Hospital offered an empty women’s ward site in the historic Pine Building, East Wing for this newly organized museum. The Board accepted his invitation, and the collections were moved to the 8th Street site.

At Pennsylvania Hospital, the museum flourished under the aegis of the Southeastern Pennsylvania League for Nursing, which served as the museum’s fiscal umbrella until 1985. The Museum then incorporated and became The Museum of Nursing History, Inc. maintaining its non-profit status and administered by a Board of Directors.

1983 Museum of Nursing History

Image courtesy Luca Borghi


The Museum’s space in Pennsylvania Hospital was allocated for clinical needs, so with the Museum’s expanding collections, the Board searched for a new home and was invited to take up residence in Friends Hospital on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia in the historic 1893 Scattergood Building. On May 14, 2005, the Museum hosted an open house to open its doors to their new home at Friends.

While at Friends, the Museum’s collections continued to expand from nurses and nurses’ families from all over the country (see Collections). Personal artifacts from both military and civilian nurses filled archival boxes, and once again, additional storage and exhibition space became necessary. Thus began a search for another new home with a different objective in mind, for the Board realized that to truly honor and utilize the Museum’s collections, they needed an environment where artifacts and documents could not only be displayed but utilized for education and research as well.

2005 Museum of Nursing History

Image courtesy Michael E Reali Jr


Zane Wolf, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Dean of LaSalle University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences at the time of the Board’s search, and a long-time supporter of the Museum, initiated the process to acquire space for the Museum at LaSalle. Dr. Wolf’s vision for a nursing history museum and the Board’s educational and research objectives were integrated; the result of which was to move the Museum into St. Benilde Tower, which is the former Wister Tower of the Germantown Dispensary and Hospital located on the West Campus of the University.

In January of 2013, the Museum of Nursing History, Inc. took up residence in its new home; a home where it can fulfill all of its objectives, as well as be a presence and testimony to the evolution of nursing’s honorable history.

2013 Museum of Nursing History

The history of nursing practice and nursing education serves as the foundation for all present and future practice of nursing. The Museum acts as a keeper of the vault that holds a precious legacy. The Museum depends on financial support from the nursing and the private sector to keep the vault protected and its doors open. Please donate today.