History of the District Nursing Association: How the Visiting Nurses Associations of America Were Born from First Church

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A fire broke out near the home of Miss Elizabeth C. Marshall (a member of First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo), and she broke her ankle running to help those who might be in need. While she convalesced at home, with no family to care for her, she hired Miss Mary Taylor, a nurse, to aid her while she healed.

This arrangement caused Miss Marshall to consider that surely others must be in the same predicament of being ill or injured, yet not requiring hospitalization, and lacking a knowledgeable caretaker. In 1885, she founded the District Nurse Association of Buffalo, and First Presbyterian Church funded it for the first several years.

Miss Taylor was hired as the pioneer nurse. Her starting salary was $600, equivalent to $16,066 in today’s dollars. In comparison, the pastor made six times her salary. The first year, she cared for 324 patients and made 1,429 visits. Only six of her patients died that year, and 20 were hospitalized; 113 made a full recovery.

The patients were a diverse mix of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, whose birthplaces ranged from the United States and Canada, to Britain, Germany, Poland, and Ireland.

The congregation helped supply beds, clothing, home furnishings, books, cloth for sewing, cribs, dishes, and, in some cases, gifts of money for patients. The Sunday school endowed a free bed at General Hospital in memory of Victor Mitchell, the infant son of the pastor Rev. Dr. Samuel S. Mitchell, D.D. who died. This bed was used by sick children who could not afford hospital care. In 1887, it helped eight children for a total of 43 weeks.

Public response to the District Nursing Association of Buffalo was so positive that growth became exponential, and in 1891, it became its own organization. Miss Marshall died in 1892, and her death was a great loss to the organization; however, it carried on and flourished. Additional nurses were hired to assist Miss Taylor. In 1899, with the opening of First Church’s resettlement campus Welcome Hall, the District Nurse Association moved there (it had previously been at the Fitch Institute Building).

Other cities founded their own district nursing organizations, and the movement continued to grow. Today, what Elizabeth Marshall began in 1885 is now the Visiting Nurses Associations of America, with more than 500 associations and 90,000 clinicians providing care to more than four million people. And it all began at First Church!