Research Resources

Nursing Theory: Tribute to Virginia Avernal Henderson, 1897-1996

Tribute to Virginia Avernal Henderson, 1897-1996 from the Interagency Council on Information Resources for Nursing (ICIRN)

The greatest nurse advocate for libraries died March 19, 1996.

Her stature as a nurse, teacher, author, researcher, and consumer health advocate warranted an obituary in the New York Times, Friday March 22.(1). Her nursing accomplishments have been noted on many listservs. Many have called her "the 20th century Florence Nightingale."

Coincidentally, the Interagency Council on Information Resources for Nursing (ICIRN) held their semi-annual meeting Friday, March 22, 1996 at the offices of the American Journal of Nursing Co. in New York. Miss Henderson was one of the founding members of ICIRN and a passionate advocate for the use and sharing of health information resources. Her life was honored with the following actions:

  • A moment of silence
  • A donation to the Sigma Theta Tau International Virginia Henderson Electronic Library (2)
  • Plans to establish an ICIRN nursing information research fund in her honor
  • A letter of condolence to her family
  • Authorization of this tribute, which may be shared as you see fit.

Virginia Henderson's contributions to information resources for nursing - which she referred to as "library tools" - include the following:

  • Compilation of the Nursing Studies Index (3). According to the obituary provided by the family, "Miss Henderson claimed her work on the Nursing Studies Index was her most important contribution to the nursing profession.." (4) This was an eleven year project while she was at Yale. A five volume review of nursing research studies (5).
  • Writings compiling library tools for nursing and promoting their use (6-11). Note that she considered library resources so important that she included a compilation in The Nature of Nursing.
  • Cofounder of ICIRN.
  • Cofounder of the New England Regional Council on Library Resources for Nursing.
  • First chairman of the International Nursing Index Editorial Advisory Committee.

As Margaret Lunney, Ph.D., RN, CS, noted last week on the nursing informatics listserv, "She provided great leadership to the nursing profession in the area of information management, long before popular use of computers. She stimulated nurses to be active participants in the work that librarians do in classifying nursing knowledge. I worked with her when she was active on the Advisory Board of INI. At 93 years of age she took the train from Yale/New Haven Connecticut to come to meetings in the heart of NYC. I mourn her loss and think of her as a true heroine."

Regarding ICIRN, "The Interagency Council was founded in response to a pressing need." Virginia Henderson, RN, a founder had stated: "Everyone realized that there was no control over the literature in nursing. Reports were lost and some studies repeated. There was no way of recording what had been done." (12) ICIRN presented an award to Miss Henderson in January 1995, with representatives visiting her retirement home in Connecticut to present the award in person. For many years, she represented the New England Regional Council on Library Resources for Nursing.

In 1985, Miss Henderson was honored at the Annual Meeting of the Nursing and Allied Health Section of the Medical Library Association. In accepting this award, Miss Henderson noted nursing students called her "little Miss 3x5" because of her insistence on documenting their sources with bibliography cards. This is also noted in a biography by Halamandaris (13), which includes interesting photographs of her life.

Numerous videos on nursing featured Miss Henderson (14-18), preserving her unforgettable style as well as her words. In conclusion, I cannot resist including the following poem from her obituary (4), written by Yale Dean Margaret Arnstein when the project concluded in 1972:

The staff and you have labored long
For thirteen years unless I'm wrong
The work you've done is quite immense
To help us find the lost ref'rence

Funeral services took place Saturday, March 23 in Virginia. A Memorial Service will be held May 10, 1996 at 4:00 p.m. at the Yale University School of Nursing, New Haven, Connecticut. For details, call the school at 203-785-2393. (4).

The Interagency Council on Information Resources for Nursing (ICIRN) was founded in 1960 by leading nurses and nursing librarians "to address information issues in nursing."(12) Originally the Interagency Council on Library Resources for Nursing, it was renamed in 1995. For current information, see the ICIRN home page at

Margaret (Peg) Allen, MLS-AHIP
Library/Information Consultant
Resource Librarian Consultant for Cinahl Information Systems
Library Consultant for Northern Wisconsin AHEC, Inc.
PO Box 2, 308 Kann, Stratford, WI 54484-0002
(715)687-4976 or (715)687-2287 Fax:(715)687-4976

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