The early years
During the early part of the 20th century, the health needs in the state of Washington were many and varied. Although the trend was for more hospitals, the bulk of hospital nursing service was provided by students and the largest field for graduate nurses was private duty nursing in the hospital and the home. The hours were long and the wages low. In the majority of cases, this meant 20-24 hour duty with an average wage of $3-$5 per day. It was also in this period that the need for the visiting or public health nurse became apparent. The first industrial nurses were also employed in this era - and indications were that this too would be a consistently growing field of nursing.
As the country moved into World War I, the first experience with a serious shortage of trained nurses became a reality. The need for nurses was compounded by the national influenza epidemic of 1918 and the public demands for the development of public health. These factors placed a heavy burden on the nursing profession. In addition, the scope of nursing practice was expanding with corresponding demands for nurses in laboratory work, anesthesia and hospital staff work.
Following two years of intense work, the delegates of the third Washington State Graduate Nurses Association (WSGNA) Convention finalize and adopt the original Articles of Incorporation.
WSGNA lobbies the legislature and achieves passage of the first Nurse Practice Act in Washington state. [This was no small feat in that many legislators feared that the title “registered nurse” would make it possible for nurses to practice medicine, surgery or midwifery. Nurses, however, were determined not to fail in their first organized attempt to set standards and gain status. This was the beginning of the active aggressive government relations program that remains an integral part of the Washington State Nurses Association today.]
On April 18, the first Board of Nurse Examiners is appointed by the Governor. The Board consisted of 5 graduate nurses with at least 3 years of experience. In September, the first examination is held in Seattle for one applicant, George Smith, a graduate of the Annie Paddock School of Nursing (now Tacoma General Hospital School of Nursing), who becomes the first licensed nurse in Washington state.
As the nation struggled with a growing TB epidemic, WSGNA members contribute funds to build a TB cottage at Riverton for the care of nurses who had contracted TB.
WSGNA helps form the Washington State Organization for Public Health Nursing as part of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing.
A national influenza epidemic and World War I produce the first severe nursing shortage. Nurses are urged to join the armed forces and nurses respond in mass. The first WSGNA president, May S. Loomis, is in charge of nurse recruitment for the state. As the shortage and the influenza epidemic peak in local communities, public health nurses, inactive married nurses and non-nurse volunteers respond to the local call for nurses and serve with courage, determination and unbelievable stamina.
WSGNA supports an increase for private duty nurses to $5 per day because of the high cost of living.