Purpose:To analyze the social meaning of the American system of education for nursing practice.
Methods:Historiographical analysis to compare and contrast the relative educational level of different self-reported groups of American women with that of nurses in the later decades of the 20th century.
Findings:Early 20th century social support for efforts to improve the overall educational level of some nurses planning careers in education, administration, or public health nursing lent credence to the belief in nursing as a vehicle for upward social mobility. This promise of mobility was particularly apparent in the educational backgrounds of African American, Hispanic, and Asian American nurses. However, the late 20th century decreased average educational level of U.S. nurses relative to that of all U.S. women jeopardizes the clinical and social roles of the profession.
Conclusions:The language of class and community status is needed in addition to that of science, knowledge development, and clinical excellence to increase social and political support for educational initiatives.