Stewart, Isabel Maitland (1878–1963)

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Stewart, Isabel Maitland (1878–1963)

Canadian nurse and teacher. Born on January 14, 1878, in Raleigh, Ontario, Canada; died of a heart attack on October 5, 1963, in Chatham, New Jersey; daughter of Francis Beattie Stewart (a farmer and sawmill owner) and Elizabeth (Farquharson) Stewart;educated in Canada and the United States; attended Winnipeg General Hospital School of Nursing, 1900–03; graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University, B.S., 1911, A.M., 1913.

Selected writings:

Opportunities in the Field of Nursing (1912); The Education of Nurses: Historical Foundations and Modern Trends; A Short History of Nursing (5 vols., 1943).

Isabel Maitland Stewart, the fourth of nine children, was born in 1878 in Raleigh, Ontario, the daughter of Elizabeth Farquharson Stewart and Francis Beattie Stewart, a farmer and sawmill owner. Upon the failure of his business when Stewart was a teenager, the family moved to Manitoba where Francis became a Presbyterian missionary. Stewart was encouraged by her family to pursue an education, and like her friends, envisioned a future that favored a career rather than marriage. Although she initially considered teaching, and taught school to pay for her education, Stewart instead decided to become a nurse.

She attended nursing school in Winnipeg from 1900 to 1903. While there, she helped to establish an alumnae association, an alumnae journal and the Manitoba Association of Graduate Nurses. Following her graduation, Stewart worked as a private nurse before returning to Winnipeg General Hospital as a supervisor of nursing. Stewart believed that nurses should learn the theory of nursing in the classroom while gaining practical knowledge on the wards. Interested in improving the standards of nursing education in Canada, Stewart learned about new nursing techniques being taught in the United States.

In 1908, she enrolled in Teachers College at Columbia University, where she trained under the guidance of Mary Adelaide Nutting . Stewart had planned to return to Canada after graduation to establish a training program for Canadian nurses, but instead remained at the college as an instructor. In 1925, she became the director of the nursing department as the Helen Hartley Jenkins Foundation Professor of Nursing Education, succeeding Nutting. At the time she took the helm, the program was geared toward training nurse administrators, but Stewart used endowment money to create an expanded nursing education department. Under her direction, the program became the best of its kind in the nation, with some students even qualifying for doctoral degrees.

Stewart promoted her vision of nursing education through her participation in several professional organizations, including the National League of Nursing Education, which she served as secretary and chair of the education committee. She was also influential in setting up the national curriculum guidelines published by the league. Believing that the nursing profession also ought to evaluate the social and emotional elements of illness, Stewart emphasized the necessity of more courses in science, psychology, sociology, and public health, and initiated the idea of standardized testing for nurses. In 1932, she helped to establish the Association of Collegiate Schools of Nursing, and also served on committees that helped to recruit and train nurses during both world wars.

Stewart presented her ideas about nursing education in her 1912 landmark work Opportunities in the Field of Nursing—one of the first publications to offer vocational guidance in the field. Although not published until much later, her other two texts, The Education of Nurses: Historical Foundations and Modern Trends and the five-volume set A Short History of Nursing, were no less influential. Acknowledging the value of other documents on the field of nursing, Stewart sought to preserve existing works on nursing through her support of the Adelaide Nutting Historical Nursing Collection housed at Teachers College.

Stewart was also interested in politics and the women's suffrage movement. At age 16, she wrote an essay on women's suffrage and later marched in parades on Fifth Avenue. She was also a member of the Foreign Policy Association for several years. She retired in 1947, and died of a heart attack at her nephew's home at the age of 85. Stewart's honors include the Mary Adelaide Nutting Award from the National League of Nursing Education (1947) and a medal from the government of Finland (1946). The Isabel Maitland Stewart Research Professorship in Nursing Education was established in 1961 at Teachers College.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan

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Stewart, Isabel Maitland (1878–1963)

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