Public Health nursing in the 1980s, together with the health care system in general, is facing complex social and professional issues, including professional autonomy, governmental relations, funding sources, cost containment, maintenance of standards, and aggregate versus individualiied foci of care. History can provide great insights into these recurrent issues, as exemplified by the Red Cross Rural Nursing Service.

This historical review traces the origins and progress of the American Red Cross Rural Nursing Service through the first 10 years of its existence. Major emphasis is placed on the organizational development and evolution of the Service. The impact and early contributions of the Service to the development of public health nursing in the United States are still vital to contemporary and current social issues.