Heer, Anna (1863–1918)

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Heer, Anna (1863–1918)

Swiss physician who played a decisive role in founding Switzerland's first professional nursing school. Born in Olten, Switzerland, on March 22, 1863; died in Zurich, Switzerland, on December 19, 1918.

Born in 1863 into comfortable bourgeois circumstances, Anna Heer grew up in a Switzerland known during the late 19th century for its progressive attitude towards women's higher education. In 1864, the University of Zurich entered the first woman, a Russian, on the register of its medical faculty. By the 1870s, growing numbers of both Swiss and foreign-born women were studying at Zurich's renowned medical school. Anna Heer initially strove for a career as an artist and only slowly came to see medicine as her life's calling. Once the decision was made, however, she pursued her goal with tenacity and was awarded her medical degree by the University of Zurich in 1888. Heer began practicing medicine as one of Switzerland's first woman physicians, and it became clear to her that the quality of nurses varied dramatically; some were both knowledgeable and conscientious, while an alarming number displayed neither of these virtues. Since the comfort and even the lives of patients were potentially at stake, Heer concluded that nursing needed to be raised to the status of a true profession. In 1896, she began working with two other Swiss women physicians, Ida Schneider and Marie Vögtlin , to create a professional nursing school in Zurich. Despite both professional and financial obstacles, in 1901 the Swiss Nurse's School opened its doors in Zurich. By maintaining high professional standards, this training academy, which included an attached women's hospital, became a model for other, similar institutions throughout Switzerland and soon gained an international reputation.

Of diminutive stature, Heer was affectionately called die Kleine (the little lady) by many of her professional colleagues. She was, however, a giant in the history of Swiss women's professional advancement. Anna Heer died in Zurich on December 19, 1918. Switzerland has honored her in many ways, including naming a street in Zurich after her and depicting her on a special charity postage stamp issued on June 1, 1963.


Baumann Kurer, Sylvia. Die Gründung der Schweizerischen Pflegerinnenschule mit Frauenspital in Zürich 1901 und ihre Chefärztin Anna Heer (1863–1918). Zurich: Juris Verlag, 1991.

"Dr. med. Anna Heer," in Biographisches Lexikon verstorbener Schweizer: In Memoriam. Zurich and Basel: Schweizerische Industrie-Bibliothek, 1950, Vol. 3, pp. 108–109.

Hildebrandt, Irma. Die Frauenzimmer kommen: 16 Zürcher Porträts. 2nd rev. ed. Munich: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1997.

Marks, Geoffrey, and William K. Beatty. Women in White. NY: Scribner, 1972.

Segesser, Anna von. Dr. med. Anna Heer, 1863–1918, Mitgründerin und erste Chefärztin der Schweizerischen Pflegerinnenschule in Zürich. Zurich: Schulthess Verlag, 1948.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia