Abstract From its inception, public health nursing has provided health care and teaching to all people including those who are disadvantaged and impoverished. Based on the work and beliefs of Florence Nightingale and Lillian Wald, public health nurses developed positive relationships with people which resulted in healthier environments and lifestyles among diverse families and communities. And, despite societal concern that nursing care for the poor would pauperize them, it did not. It empowered them. A review of concepts of poverty and comparisons of issues and circumstances at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries underscores the values inherent in these early initiatives and their continuing relevance to public health nursing practice that can empower, rather than pauperize, those who are disadvantaged or living in poverty.