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J Prof Nurs. 2018 Jan - Feb;34(1):47-53. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2017.05.002. Epub 2017 May 2.

Spiritual formation, secularization, and reform of professional nursing and education in antebellum America.

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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, College of Nursing, Clow C210B, 800 Algoma Blvd. Oshkosh, WI 54901, USA. Electronic address:


The origin story of professional nursing associated with antebellum American faith communities is all but lost. This paper provides historical evidence for professional nursing for that period using a case study approach that examines three faith communities: the Sisters and Daughters of Charity, the Shakers, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The purpose is to present an historical analysis of the three communities' health beliefs, recipes and remedies that were foundational to the spiritual formation and education of professional nurses within their communities. The focus of the analysis is to place the evidence for professional nursing in these faith communities within the broader context of the contemporary American narrative of the "secularization" of professional nursing associated with the adoption of the Nightingale Training Model after 1873. Nursing became a profession in America because of the courage and passion of many for spiritual formation in community around a need to relieve suffering and demonstrate kindness. The history of American nursing is comprised of stories of powerful nurse ancestors that have the potential to inspire and unite us in that same purpose today despite the ambiguities that may still exist around spirituality, religiosity, and secularization.


Faith community nursing, secularization; Health care reform; Nursing education; Nursing history; Primary health care; Spirituality

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