Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Patricia D'Antonio


Within the context of the rapidly changing society of Progressive Era America, educated women were looking for new occupations which would allow them to exercise their skills as independent thinkers, autonomous workers and group leaders. In such a search, some women found their way to professional nursing and entered hospital-based nurse training programs after their college graduations. This study is a history of these college women who became professional nurses between 1890 and 1920 - a period when both institutions for womenâ??s higher education and professional nurse training were at a transition point. Historians of womenâ??s higher education and historians of nursing alike have yet to focus on this population in their analyses of educated and professional women. However questions about what professional nursing had to offer college women elucidate in new ways the meaning of work to women, female empowerment and the unique opportunities afforded to women through higher education and professional nursing. This dissertation traces the efforts of college women as they looked to nursing as a potential profession through which they could affect social reform and meaningfully engage in the public realm. At the same time, nursing leaders attempted to recruit college women into the field in order to gain professional esteem. Overall the story of college women who became professional nurses from 1890 to 1920 is one of intersection and tension as the leaders of both institutions developed differing and irreconcilable visions of the future of professional nursing.