Florence Nightingale

The History of Nurses Week

Heather Gillies
from Today’s Nurse
April 28, 2003

National Nurses Week is May 6-12. Not just this year, but every year, regardless of the days of the week upon which those dates fall. May 6 is the official nurse recognition day, with student nurse day on May 8 and school nurse day on May 9 in 2003. (This recognition day was previously observed during january and, unlike the others, is not a fixed date.) The week draws attention to and celebrate the contributions that nurses and nursing make to the community. The full week of recognition culminates on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12.


1953 Dorothy Sutherland of the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare sends a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a "Nurse Day" in October of the following year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to the Crimea. The proclamation is never made.

1954 Nevertheless, National Nurse Week is observed from October 11 - 16 thanks to a bill sponsored by Representative Frances P. Bolton.

1955 A bill for a National Nurse Week is introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action is taken.

1965 The International Council of Nurses (ICN) begins celebrating "International Nurse Day".

1972 The House of Representatives presents a resolution to President Nixon to proclaim "National Registered Nurse Day". No action is taken.

1974 In January, ICN proclaims that May 12 (the birthday of Florence Nightingale) would be "International Nurse Day". In February, President Nixon proclaims National Nurse Week.

1978 New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declares May 6 as "Nurses Day" for the state.

1981 ANA, (American Nurses Association), along with various nursing organizations, rallies to support a resolution initiated by nurses in New Mexico, through Congressman Manuel Lujan, to have May 6, 1982, established as "National Recognition Day for Nurses".

1982 In February, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledges May 6, 1982 as "National Nurses Day". the action affirms a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as "National Recognition Day for Nurses". President Ronald Reagan signs a proclamation on March 25, officially declaring May 6, 1982 as "National Recognition Day for Nurses".

1990 The ANA Board of Directors expands the recognition of nurses to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6 - 12, 1991 as National Nurses Week.

1993 The ANA Board of Directors designates May 6 - 12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.

1996 The ANA initiates "National RN Recognition Day" on May 6, 1996.

1997 The ANA Board of Directors, at the request of the National Student Nurses Association, designates May 8 as National Student Nurses Day.

2002 The ANA declares that, beginning in 2003, the Wednesday that falls during the May 6 - 12 recognition week will be designated annually as School Nurses Recognition Day.