Although the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania started a nurse training program as early as 1886, the University did not begin its nursing degree program on a collegiate basis until 1935 when, at the request of the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, the Board of Trustees of the University authorized the establishment of a Department of Nursing Education in Penn’s School of Education.
Katherine Tucker was appointed Professor and Director of the department, a position which she retained until her retirement in 1949. Programs leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Education, with majors in nursing education and public health nursing, were offered to graduates of hospital nursing schools. Courses were also offered in Extension Divisions to nurses in eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. In 1937, a program leading to the degree of Master of Science in Education with a major in nursing education was established. In 1944, the Trustees of the University further authorized the establishment, in the Division of Medical Affairs, of a Basic Collegiate School of Nursing with a five-year basic program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Theresa I. Lynch was appointed Director (the title was changed to Dean in 1946). In 1949, Lynch was appointed Director of the Department of Nursing Education, in addition to her responsibilities as Dean of the Basic School.
In 1950, the Department of Nursing Education merged with the Basic School to form the School of Nursing of the University of Pennsylvania as an independent professional school in the Division of Medical Affairs. The school offered both the degree of B.S. in Nursing Education and the degree of B.S. in Nursing. Graduate courses leading to the degree of M.S. in Education with a major in Nursing Education remained in the School of Education.
In 1951, the School of Nursing, with approval by the Educational Council, initiated a program for graduates of diploma courses leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Nursing to replace gradually the baccalaureate programs in nursing education which had been started in 1935. In 1953, the School secured approval from the Trustees for a four-year program to replace the five-year basic program. In 1954, the School received accreditation by the National League for Nursing for its programs leading to baccalaureate degrees for graduates of hospital nursing schools. The same year, programs leading to the B.S. in Nursing Education were discontinued. The program for registered nurses leading to the degree of B.S. in Nursing was revised and renamed as the General Nursing Curriculum for Registered Nurses. Additionally, the School was authorized by the Trustees to undertake a five-year experiment in which a two-year program in nursing leading to an Associates in Applied Science degree was offered. This program was discontinued in the sixties.
In 1957, the School was surveyed again by the Accrediting Service of the Department of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs of the National League for Nursing; full accreditation was awarded to all programs. The Trustees authorized the establishment of the Graduate Division in the School of Nursing with programs leading to the degree of Master of Science in Nursing in 1961. Frances C. Thielbar, who had been in charge of the masters program in nursing at the University of Chicago, was appointed Chairman of the Graduate Division, a position which she held until her death in 1962.
In 1965, Dorothy A. Mereness became the second dean of the School of Nursing. In 1966, major changes in the Master’s curriculum were initiated. Admission and promotion standards were raised and implemented. The curriculum was lengthened from two academic semesters and two summer sessions to four academic semesters. All the clinical programs were reorganized.
After the University accepted responsibility for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1973, its Board of Trustees voted in early 1974 to close the nurse training school that had existed with the Hospital since 1886. When the last class graduated from the Hospital school in 1978, the School of Nursing took over the Tri-Institutional Education Building at 420 Service Drive, which has since housed the headquarters and all programs of the School.
The School celebrated its silver anniversary in May 1975. In 1977, Claire M. Fagin became the third dean of the School and held the position until 1991. Norma M. Lang, the fourth dean, served from March 1992 to August 2000.