ABSTRACT Public health nursing was the term Lillian Wald used to describe the work of nurses whose role it was to address both the immediate impact of sickness and the underlying relationship between poverty, social disadvantage, environmental hazards, and disease. The nature and content of American public health nursing of the 1930s are reflected in exemplars from Marguerite Wales's 1941 book, The Public Health Nurse in Action. Nurses' roles as educators, caregivers, and case managers overcoming barriers emerge from the tales. These vignettes illustrate the organic relationships that existed between nurses and communities. Nurses' understanding of the nature and influence of environmental, psychological and social factors on health behavior was essential to effective public health work. Their stories help us interpret the meaning of nursing at a moment in time. They also reflect the values of the founders of Henry Street Nursing Service and supervisors of public and voluntary agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada who selected and edited them for instructive purposes. Reading collections of such narratives also helps us to appreciate the difficulty of negotiating complex needs, and may provide greater appreciation for the work of our predecessors as well as our own.