Elizabeth Soule and the University of Washington Nursing Dept.

Profiles in Nursing

Elizabeth Soule and the University of Washington Nursing Dept.

How epidemics changed the profession

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Elizabeth Soule founded the University of Washington Nursing Department in 1921 and thereby established the first integrated nursing program at any university. The school she founded has thrived and has long been recognized as a premier school for nursing education. Over 99 percent of the faculty holds a Ph.D. The school consistently ranks in the top tier of schools receiving nursing research grants.

Field Training

Soule’s first love, however, was not education but public health nursing. As the daughter of a physician, she grew up in Boston keenly aware of the harsh effects of poor living and working conditions on the health of the indigent. She was the first visiting nurse in Everett, Massachusetts; and when in 1912, she moved to Seattle after her marriage, she was the only nurse in the state with field training.

Public Health Innovations

During these same early years, outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis led her to found the Washington State Public Health Nursing Association. Eventually she was appointed the first supervisor of the Washington T.B. Association and the Red Cross.

A convergence of high rates of illness, due to the worldwide influenza outbreak and a dearth of nurses trained in public health, led the University of Washington to spearhead courses in public health that included field work — a first. Another innovation: a continuing education conference, with Soule in a leadership position. Shortly after, she was named the first state supervisor of public health nursing.

A New Educational Model

In 1920 the University approached her to set up a new Department of Nursing, one that would offer accreditation in public health. As she switched her area of concentration to nursing education, Soule began to encourage local hospitals to send their apprenticeship-trained nurses for additional training. The university offered programs that targeted the staff of the state’s mental health hospitals and T.B. sanitariums.     

Within a short time Soule developed the first of its kind integrated four-year program that provided collegiate education at a local hospital with the university controlling the supervised clinical experience. The University of Washington School of Nursing became the first nursing school on the West Coast and only the second university-affiliated school in the country.

This combination of a program that integrated academic learning with clinical work became the standard of nursing education. The school granted its first BSN in 1923, and within 10 years all the nursing faculty were required to have a master’s degree. Soule herself earned both her BSN and Masters while working full-time to establish the department.

“Mother of Nursing”

When Soule retired in 1950, Time magazine called her the “Mother of Nursing” in the Pacific Northwest. She was named to the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame posthumously in 1986, and the University of Washington continues to honor her with the Elizabeth Sterling Soule Endowed Lecture, and a similarly named endowed chair. There is also an Elizabeth Sterline Soule scholarship. 


Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.


This article is from workingnurse.com.

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