History and Traditions

image of SON pin

Our Rich Heritage

During the past century, the school has evolved from a small training school in a fifty-bed hospital to a school that now graduates more than two hundred baccalaureate, master, and doctoral students each year. Emory is ranked among the top ten private US schools of nursing, with the goal of becoming the best private nursing school in the nation.

The evolution of the School of Nursing since 1905 features seven moves, three new buildings, nine directors of nursing, nine deans (some interim), and four name changes. The school helped break the gender barrier by introducing more women to a traditionally male campus and the color barrier by graduating Emory’s first African American students.

When the school celebrated the groundbreaking of the Asbury Circle building (its second building and sixth home) in 1968, Dean Ada Fort reflected on the school’s first sixty years. The first twenty years marked the birth of the school on August 16, 1905, at the Wesley Memorial Hospital Training School for Nurses, located at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Courtland Street in Atlanta (now the site of the Auburn Avenue Research Library of African American Culture and History). The school was a part of the hospital, and both were housed in a renovated mansion known as the Calico House. Directed by Alberta Dozier, the nursing program comprised two years of practical training and some theoretical classroom instruction.

The second twenty-year period began in 1922 when the school and hospital moved to the Emory campus. In 1929, the school moved into its own building, the Florence Candler Harris Home for Nurses (now known as Harris Hall, a coed undergraduate residence hall). In 1932, the school experienced its first name change to Emory University Hospital School of Nursing.

The third twenty-year period that Fort referenced included the school’s third name change to Emory University School of Nursing, when the school separated from the hospital and became an independent school of the university, led by Dean Julia Miller, in 1944. During this period, the school established its baccalaureate and graduate programs, Fort began her twenty-five-year tenure as dean, and the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the honorary society for nurses, was founded.

The school was just entering its fourth twenty-year period at the time of its 1968 building groundbreaking, shortly after the school was renamed for Nell Hodgson Woodruff, the wife of Coca-Cola magnate and Emory philanthropist Robert Woodruff. Although she left nursing school to marry Mr. Woodruff in 1912, Nell remained committed to nursing throughout her life, primarily through voluntary service to the American Red Cross and Emory. The school built the Asbury Circle building and with the move created a new BSN curriculum that focused on a specific nursing model to include basic nursing concepts and processes combined with clinical practice experience.

At the 1968 groundbreaking, Fort noted that throughout each period of the school’s history, one constant remained: “A belief that the only way a school of nursing can contribute toward producing the greatest nurse is that it provide for the total development of the person who is to be that great nurse.”

“This unchanging belief,” she added, “has been the element which has made these 60 years one progressive movement.” (Excerpted from Emory Magazine, March--April 1968.)

After Fort retired, that “progressive movement” continued under deans Edna Grexton, Clair Martin, Dyanne Affonso, and Marla Salmon.

In 2009, Linda A. McCauley became the sixth dean of Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. She began her appointment after serving as the associate dean for research at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing.

Under her leadership, the School of Nursing is executing a comprehensive strategic plan to expand the school's research enterprise, forge new clinical partnerships, and increase diversity among the faculty and student populations.

McCauley is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine. She also is a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and the American Academy of Occupational Health Nurses. She has been widely published in the fields of nursing and environmental health. She is a sought-after speaker and has been featured in national publications and broadcasts including Time, Business Week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, and the Weather Channel.

1905 Wesley Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses opened in Atlanta on August 16 after being chartered a year earlier by the Methodist Church. The fifty-bed hospital and training school were located in the Calico House, an antebellum mansion located at the corner of Courtland Street and Auburn Avenue, just one block from Wesley Memorial Church.

1907 The first class of ten students graduated from Wesley Memorial Hospital’s Training School for Nurses. Bertha Eckhart, a transfer student from Washington, D.C., was the first graduate in 1906.

1908 Alberta Dozier (later Williamson) became superintendent of the hospital and director of the nursing school, serving in both roles until 1923. A member of the American Red Cross who was active in organizing the Emory Unit in World War I, Dozier was a strong guiding force in the early days of the nursing school.

1912 Nell Hodgson withdrew from nursing school in Athens, Georgia, to marry Robert Woodruff, future leader of The Coca-Cola Company. The Woodruffs became staunch supporters of Emory University. Nell Woodruff served as a volunteer nurse with the American Red Cross during both world wars, often working in the maternity ward.

1914 Dozier changed the two-year training program to a three-year diploma program. Wesley Memorial Hospital Alumnae was organized, serving as the grassroots level of the American Nurses Association. Dozier insisted that all graduates become members of the professional organization.

1922 Wesley Memorial Hospital and its Training School for Nurses moved to a new hospital building on the Emory campus. The hospital and nursing school were renamed Emory University Hospital and Emory University Hospital School of Nursing in 1932.

1923 The first class graduated from Wesley Memorial Hospital Training School for Nurses on the Emory campus. During the 1920s, the US government selected the school as one of only eight schools in the country to lead in the development of university-based education in nursing.

1929 The Florence Candler Harris Home for Nurses opened next to Emory University Hospital. Italian Renaissance in design, the Harris nurses home included suites for nursing faculty, offices, classrooms, laboratories, and living quarters for student nurses, who had been living in the hospital. Harris was a longtime volunteer with the Methodist Church, the hospital, and the nursing school. She had three brothers, including Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler, who donated the land and $1 million to establish Emory University in 1915.

1942 Julia Miller, a US Public Health Service consultant, conducted a survey of Emory University and the Atlanta community to determine the feasibility of a university school of nursing at Emory. In 1943, she was named director of the school and nursing service at Emory Hospital.

1943 The Emory Unit was reactivated during World War II. The unit included nurses like Nina Rusk Carson 35N 51G, former dean of women at Emory and a chief nurse in maxillofacial surgery at the time of the war’s outbreak. Stationed in Northern Africa and then Europe, the unit established one of the military’s first ICUs in France. On the home front, Nell Hodgson Woodruff recruited Red Cross volunteers for Emory University Hospital and worked there herself to fill in for staff nurses serving in the military.

1944 The nursing school began to offer a baccalaureate degree program and was renamed Emory University School of Nursing, with Miller serving as dean. The program required two years of arts and sciences education for admission, followed by two years of professional nursing education. Graduates received a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, part of a national movement to elevate the professional requirements and stature of nursing.

1949 Nell Hodgson Woodruff presented the first Nell Hodgson Woodruff Award to Mary Hall 49N 62MN 83PhD to honor an outstanding graduating senior. (Hall later taught public health nursing at Emory and served as interim dean.) Thus began the tradition of the Silver Bowl Award, presented today by the Nurses Alumni Association to a baccalaureate student and by the Associates to a graduate student at graduation.

1951 Ada Fort became dean, serving until 1976. During her twenty-five-year tenure, Fort propelled the school forward in nursing practice, education, and administration. In 1972, she founded a nonprofit organization known today as Global Health Action, which trains health care workers in more than 70 countries.

1952 The last diploma class graduated. Concurrent with the baccalaureate program, the School of Nursing continued to offer a diploma program until 1949.

1953 The School of Nursing offices moved from Emory Hospital to the Bartholomew Professional Building on Clifton Road, the present site of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Classrooms remained in the hospital.

1954 Supported by grants from the Kellogg Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund, the School of Nursing began a graduate program leading to the master of nursing degree. It was the first such program in the Southeast. Also, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Nell Hodgson Woodruff to the US delegation of the World Health Organization. The appointment was a testament to Woodruff’s leadership role in nursing. Years later, Marla Salmon held this role in 1995 before becoming dean in 1999.

1957 The School of Nursing moved to “temporary” quarters in Annex B on the present site of the Goizueta Business School. The nursing school remained there for thirteen years.

1959 The length of the BSN program was increased from two to three years, making the total nursing program five years long. A visit by Mary Clark Rockefeller led to the organization of the Associates, a group of women dedicated to the promotion of the school. Among the original group were Nell Hodgson Woodruff; her niece, Nell Woodruff Hodgson Watt (“Little Nell”); and Mrs. Henry Bowden, the first president.

1962 Lt. Keith Howard Taylor became the first male student admitted to the graduate program.

1963 Verdelle Bellamy 63MN and Allie Saxon 63MN entered the graduate program as the first African American students in the school and the first full-time African American students at the university. Dean Ada Fort and Emory Board of Trustees Chair Henry Bowden fought valiantly to admit both students.

1964 The Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the nursing honor society, was established.

1967 Emory’s Board of Trustees renamed the School of Nursing in honor of Nell Hodgson Woodruff.

1968 In January, Woodruff attended the groundbreaking of the new School of Nursing Building on Asbury Circle. She would not live to see it completed, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage five days later. Also that year, Francis Creegan graduated as the first male BSN student.

1970 The School of Nursing moved into its new building behind Emory Hospital. The BSN curriculum was changed to an integrated format and shortened to four academic years and one summer. Along with nursing courses, students were enrolled in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, and pharmacology, taught by Emory School of Medicine faculty.

1972 Bob Isom, the first African American male in the BSN program, graduated. A year earlier, Mackie Norris became the first African American woman on the faculty.

1976 Edna Grexton became dean of the School of Nursing, serving until 1984. Two years later, Clair Martin was appointed dean, serving until 1992. Under their leadership, the school specialized in nursing administration and education and the preparation of nurses for increased hands-on patient care as clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners.

1987 The school discontinued the use of navy blue uniforms for BSN students. Also, the NEAT (Nursing Employment and Tuition) program was initiated with Emory, Crawford Long, and other hospitals. Students defrayed part of their tuition by working for one of the hospitals after graduation.

1990 The Metropolitan Atlanta Community Foundation gave $1 million to the nursing school to establish the Edith F. Honeycutt Chair of Nursing. The chair was named for the 1939 alumna who was a pioneer in oncology nursing at Emory and who served as a private nurse to the Woodruff family. Deborah McGuire, a researcher in cancer pain and symptom management, became the first holder. Today, Jo Ann Dalton and Kathy Parker hold Honeycutt Chairs. Also in 1990, the Independence Foundation endowed a chair in nursing education. Ora Strickland was its first holder. Maureen Kelley currently holds an Independence Chair.

1993 Dyanne Affonso was appointed dean, serving until 1998. During her tenure, the university approved plans to construct a new nursing school building and establish a doctoral program focused on nursing research.

1999 Marla Salmon, former director of the Division of Nursing in the US Department of Health, was appointed dean. Under her leadership, enrollment grew, research funding increased, and the school broadened its efforts in service learning and international nursing. Later in 1999, three students enrolled in the school’s new doctoral program focused on clinical research.

2000 Sandra Dunbar was appointed as the school’s first Charles Howard Candler Professor of Cardiovascular Nursing. Distinguished faculty in different disciplines across the university hold these endowed professorships.

2001 The School of Nursing moved into a new state-of-the-art building, which includes a teaching pavilion and clinical skills lab. The building is strategically located on the Clifton Corridor between the Rollins School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, the school established the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing (now called the Lillian Carter Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility) to extend health care to vulnerable people through more effective nursing leadership and practice worldwide. Later that year, the school was awarded federal funding to establish the Center for Research on Symptoms, Symptom Interactions, and Health Outcomes. Directed by Kathy Parker, the center is one of only nine exploratory centers in the country funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

2002 The School of Nursing received $5 million from The Helene Fuld Health Trust, the largest gift in school history. The gift supports fellowships for second-career students with an interest in serving vulnerable populations. The fellowships are also intended to help fill the critical shortage of nurses nationwide.

2003 Caroline Constantin became the first student to receive a PhD. Also, US News & World Report ranked the school twenty-sixth overall and eighth among private nursing schools in the nation.

2004 The School of Nursing was ranked 18th among more than six hundred nursing schools and 6th among all private nursing schools for research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Also, the school began a dual-degree partnership with Agnes Scott College to attract students with a strong liberal arts background and an interest in nursing.

2005 The School of Nursing launched a yearlong Centennial celebration. To date, approximately ten thousand Emory-educated nurses have led the way in patient care, public health, research, health education, and health policy around the world. Also, Sarah Freeman became the first holder of the Betty Tigner Turner Professorship in Nursing.

2006 Kenneth Hepburn and Marsha Lewis became the school’s first associate dean for research and associate dean for education, respectively. Sue Donaldson joined the school as Distinguished Professor of Nursing and Interdisciplinary Science, with a secondary appointment in the School of Medicine.

2009 Linda McCauley, former associate dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, was appointed dean. Under her leadership, the School of Nursing has risen in the rankings, increased enrollment, established clinical collaborations with leading health care systems, and enhanced nursing science at Emory.

The nursing pin, given to every nurse upon graduation from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, cannot be considered mere jewelry or a reminder of graduation like the tassel or a mortarboard. Rather, the nursing pin has a history that connects each new Emory nurse to every nurse who has come before, every nurse in the United States, every nurse who has ever accepted the responsibility of the profession.

The wearing of the nursing pin is a privilege earned by graduates of nursing programs across the country. It is a symbol of the practice of nursing and the educational preparation of the wearer. Most schools have a pinning ceremony to honor their graduates, and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing is no exception. Over the years, the design of the Emory nursing pin has changed very little. The first pin, created for the graduating class of 1907, was inspired by the Maltese Cross and the Red Cross. This is fitting as the Maltese Cross dates back to the symbols associated with the knights of the Crusades. At that time, nurses undertook both a military role and a nursing role as they worked alongside the knights tending to the needs of the wounded. Each of the eight points of the Maltese cross stands for a beatitude the knights and nurses were to obey. This cross is the original symbol of service.

The location and name of Emory’s nursing school also affected its appearance. The first pin of the School of Nursing was created for The Wesley Memorial Hospital Training School for Nurses founded in 1905 in downtown Atlanta. Nurses who earned a diploma received a gold pin on which there was a dark red cross, surrounded by delicate gold filigree supporting a white enamel banner above the cross with the initials WMH, for Wesley Memorial Hospital.

As the pins of subsequent years illustrate, the nursing school changed its location and name over the next half century. In 1922, pins still bore the letters WMH for Wesley Memorial Hospital. The school had moved to Emory campus but the name was not changed to Emory University Hospital until 1926. Then, the only change in the pin was the addition of the initials EUH on the porcelain banner. In the mid-1940s, the letters changed to EUSN, for Emory University School of Nursing. Finally the letters were changed to NHWSN after the school name was changed in 1967 to honor Mrs. Nell Hodgson Woodruff, wife of Coca-Cola magnate Robert W. Woodruff, for her lifelong love and support for the nursing profession. Mrs. Woodruff broke ground for our very first nursing building in April 1968, just five days before her death. Her memory and her legacy are always with us.

The nursing caps that were formerly worn by nursing students and graduate nurses were cherished by those who wore them and were individualized according to the school the nurse attended.

The Emory nurses' cap was designed in 1907 by the student body and superintendent of the Wesley Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. The cap was made of white lawn with a brim sheltering six pleats. The foundation of the two center pleats signifies honor, while the pleats themselves stand for tolerance, sympathy, endurance, truthfulness and loyalty.

To distinguish the level of the student in nursing education at this time, freshmen or pre-clinical students wore no caps until a Capping Ceremony was held after six months completion of study where students received caps. First year students wore caps with a narrow navy blue band on the brim of their caps, juniors wore two narrow blue bands on the brim of their caps and seniors wore one broad band on their caps. Following graduation, the caps were worn all white.

The cap became optional around the late 1960s and are no longer worn by nurses, but are now a symbol of nursing recognized by all in the health care profession.

Nell Hodgson Woodruff's interest in nursing began during her childhood in Athens, Georgia. She nursed all of her family's pets back to health when they were ill, and her dolls always wore nurses' uniforms. When Nell finished her secondary schooling, she entered nursing training at St. Mary's Hospital in Athens.

On a trip to Atlanta, Nell met Robert Woodruff. Robert became very enamored with Nell, charmed by her beauty and gentle wit. On October 17, 1912, Nell and Robert were married at her parents' home in Athens. Nell did not return to nursing school after their marriage.

However, when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mrs. Woodruff began volunteering as a nurses' aide with the American Red Cross. She took eighty hours of extra training so that she could help train other nurses. As a result, Mrs. Woodruff was authorized to be a nurses' aide at any United States military hospital.

In 1932, Mrs. Woodruff began volunteering at Emory University Hospital. Because of her excellent skills, she was the only volunteer allowed to work in the maternity ward. When the United States went back to war in 1941, Mrs. Woodruff again donated many hours of her time to the Red Cross. She worked as a nurses' aide in hospitals and also recruited other women to nursing. Mrs. Woodruff served as one of the first 12 Nursing Associates, friends and ambassadors of Emory’s School of Nursing who promote and support the school and the importance of nursing education.  

The Emory Nurses' Alumni Association honored Woodruff and her dedication to nursing by naming her as an honorary member of the organization in 1946. Others also recognized Woodruff's devotion and history of service. She was made an honorary member of the Georgia Nurses Association, and in 1954, President Eisenhower appointed her an American delegate to the World Health Organization.

In 1967, Emory University Board of Trustees decided to honor Mrs. Woodruff for her years of service and dedication to nursing. The board renamed the School of Nursing the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.