Regarded as one of the most famous nurses in history, Virginia Avenel Henderson is credited with developing a nursing theory, in which she defined the role of nurses in healthcare. Henderson was trained at the Army School of Nursing in 1921, and she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Teachers College in Columbia University. She started as a public health nurse at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City and soon became the first full-time nursing instructor at the Norfolk Protestant School of Nursing. 

In 1953, Henderson began teaching at the Yale School of Nursing and continued to teach there with emeritus status until 1996. She wrote and published numerous textbooks throughout her career, as well as The Nursing Studies Index, a 12-year project in which she covered the first 60 years of nursing research. Her nursing theory, the “Henderson Model,” is used internationally as a standard for nursing practice. 

Henderson received 13 honorary degrees, was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame, and was awarded the most prestigious honor in nursing, the Christiane Reimann Prize, by the International Council of Nurses. 

She died in 1996 at the age of 98 in Connecticut. She is still known today as “the first lady of nursing.”