Robb, Isabel Hampton (1860–1910)

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Robb, Isabel Hampton (1860–1910)

Canadian-born nursing educator. Name variations: Isabel Adams Hampton. Born Isabel Adams Hampton in Welland, Ontario, Canada, in 1860; died in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 15, 1910; daughter of Samuel James Hampton and Sarah Mary (Lay) Hampton; earned teaching certificate from Collegiate Institute in St. Catherines, Ontario; graduated from Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York City, 1883; married Hunter Robb (a physician and professor of gynecology), in 1894; children: Hampton; Philip Hunter.

Born Isabel Adams Hampton in 1860 in Welland, Ontario, Canada, Isabel Hampton Robb grew up in an efficient, Spartan household with her parents and six siblings. She earned a teaching certificate from Collegiate Institute in St. Catherines, Ontario, but her aspirations were in nursing. She completed courses at New York City's innovative Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses, which followed Florence Nightingale 's model for nursing education, in 1883, and began her nursing career in Rome, Italy, caring for ill English and American tourists.

In 1886, Robb started work at the Illinois Training School for Nurses at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, as superintendent of nurses. In an effort to improve the educational standards of nursing schools, she proposed the first graded course of study for nurses in the country. In 1889, her leadership qualities caused her to be chosen as superintendent of nurses and principal of the nurses' training school at the newly opened Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She endeavored to raise the standards of the nursing program by working to expand the two-year curriculum to three years, establish an eight-hour workday, and enlarge the school's budget. Although these goals were met only after her tenure as superintendent, Robb was instrumental in pushing the school to new levels of excellence. Not content to be an agent of change locally, she desired to see a common standard set for nursing programs across the country. To this end, she became a founding member of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses of the United States and Canada (after 1912, the National League of Nursing Education), established under her leadership.

Isabel's 1894 marriage to Dr. Hunter Robb, an associate in gynecology at Johns Hopkins, brought an end to her work with that specific hospital, but did not stop her activity in nursing organizations at the national level. From her home base in Cleveland, Ohio, where her husband worked as professor of gynecology at Western Reserve University, Robb played a central role in the founding of the Nurses' Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (after 1911, the American Nurses' Association, the name by which it is still known). She presided as its first president from 1897 to 1901 and endeavored to set legal standards of nursing that would encompass all states. In a joint venture with Mary Adelaide Nutting , her successor at Johns Hopkins, she set in motion the development of a course in hospital economics at Teachers College of Columbia University. Her career also included the writing of two textbooks, Nursing: Its Principles and Practice (1893) and Nursing Ethics (1900), and her election to the presidency of the Society of Superintendents in 1908. Her life and work ended unexpectedly when she was crushed to death between two streetcars on April 15, 1910.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Brenda Kubiac , freelance writer, Chesterfield, Michigan