Nursing at the University of Illinois has a vibrant history full of many memorable achievements. Although formal nursing education can be traced back to 1873, it was nearly seventy years before the University of Illinois began establishing a school of nursing. Until then, Illinois nurses were trained at hospital schools where their focus was hands-on experience. As the demands of the profession grew, so did the need for higher education. Nursing courses started to be offered at the University of Illinois, at the request of hospitals, in the early 1940s. Then in 1949, the Affiliate Collegiate program was established between the University of Illinois and four area hospital schools of nursing in central Illinois. The program allowed hospital students to earn their bachelor’s degrees and inaugurated the RN-BSN program.
In 1951, the Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois authorized the organization of the School of Nursing to be an autonomous unit of the university. The Affiliate Collegiate program was discontinued and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) became the first public institution in Illinois to offer a curriculum leading to a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. The result attracted students that might have otherwise have forgone nursing. The admission of the first class to the School of Nursing in September, 1954 marked a defining moment in the history of nursing at the UIC.
In 1956, Emily C. Cardew became the institution’s first dean of nursing and the first class of eight students graduated in 1957. Soon after, re-designated as a College of Nursing (CON), the UIC established a Master of Science in Nursing. In the late 1960s, construction of a new building at 845 South Damen Avenue was completed. This new facility allowed the number of incoming students to triple. In the 1970s, the CON expanded to include regional sites in Peoria, Rockford and Urbana; established the first PhD program for nurses in Illinois; and created the first ever graduate program of its kind in nurse midwifery in the U.S. The CON expanded to the Quad Cities in 1980. In 1986, it was designated as the first World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Nursing and Midwifery.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed the CON emerging as a leader in nursing research with numerous federal and state funded grants. These research endeavors, along with the highest quality of education and patient care, have brought national recognition to the UIC College of Nursing. It is one of the premiere nursing programs in the nation. In 2005, the CON celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago – a fitting location for a college that continues to reach for the stars. Although we are long past that anniversary, we will always be reaching/striving for the best.