According to the spectrum of opinion, nursing research appears to be alive but vulnerable, poised for further growth but still liable to wither if starved of funding. By using a historical approach to provide an understanding of the present, this paper hopes to offer some guidance for the healthy future of nursing research. Documentary and oral evidence has been cited to compare the experiences of nurses as the subjects of research and as researchers themselves. Investigations on recruitment and retention in nursing undertaken prior to World War II tended to give monocausal explanations for complex problems. As a result, pioneer nurse researchers had to work in an atmosphere of suspicion from sections of the profession and little regard from more established professions. The paper demonstrates that in order to make progress they used formal and informal support networks. Contemporary practitioners could identify similar networks.