We can look back with great pride and have great confidence in our future as we celebrate our first centennial.
The major programs of WSNA – Legislative and Health Policy, Nursing Practice and Education and the Economic and General Welfare of Nurses – all had their roots in the early efforts of nurses to regulate nursing practice, raise the standards of nursing, standardize and regulate nursing schools and respond to the first nursing shortages. While it is impossible to capture each and every accomplishment of these past 100 years, these pages are a humble attempt to highlight a select number of the major milestones that have occurred along the way.
In the late 1800’s, the quality of nursing in the United States was extremely variable and in disarray. There were no standards for entry into practice. Persons could “nurse for hire” as so-called “practical or domestic nurses” or practice as “trained nurses.” The latter were educated and received diplomas from hospital schools of nursing, while the former had either not attended or not graduated from any type of formal program. By the 1890’s there were approximately 3,000 trained nurse graduates of 432 schools and an estimated 42,500 “domestic” nurses. Even the “trained” nurses were from programs that were widely diverse in their length of study and content and physicians often dictated nursing duties and methods of training. In short, nurses themselves held little or no control at all over the development and standards of their rapidly growing profession.
Nationally, early pioneer leaders such as Adelaide Nutting proposed the formation of a national nursing organization to elevate the standards of nursing education, establish a code of ethics, and promote the interests of nursing. These first efforts to organize were through the existing alumnae associations of the training schools and, in 1896, the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada was successfully formed as a national association of professional nurses. It was later renamed the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1912.
The story of the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) is very similar. As early as 1898, attempts were being made to start local nurses associations and in October of that year, the first county nurses association in Washington was organized in Spokane. In the next few years, local associations in Seattle, Tacoma, Whatcom County, and Walla Walla rapidly followed. In 1908, a group of fourteen of these courageous, far-sighted nurse leaders officially formed the Washington State Graduate Nurses Association (WSGNA). The WSGWA was renamed the “Washington State Nurses Association” in 1940.
It was concern for the public’s welfare that prompted these nurses to organize. They formed the WSGNA so that working together, nurses could effectively achieve the following goals:
- Bring into one compact organization the nursing profession of the State of Washington,
- Extend, advance and elevate the standards of Nursing Practice (Nursing Practice and Education),
- Secure enactment and enforcement of just nursing laws (Legislation and Public Policy),
- Promote friendship among the nurses (Networking and Mentoring),
- Guard and foster the material interests of nurses (Economic and General Welfare and Professional Development of Nurses), and
- Enlighten and direct public opinion.
In order to achieve their objectives, two factors were involved: 1) they knew they must regulate the practice of nursing and 2) raise the standards of nursing practice.