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Virginia Arnold

Virginia Arnold was a highly-accomplished nurse and nursing educator who was critical to the Rockefeller Foundation’s international nursing education programs in the mid-twentieth century. 

Born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 24, 1907, Arnold received her B.A. from the University of Delaware in 1930 and her R.N. from Johns Hopkins University in 1935. In 1940, she became Pennsylvania’s State Supervisor of Nurses, and in 1941 she was hired as the Supervisor of the Division of Venereal Disease Control for the Philadelphia City Department of Health, while also teaching public health nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. Arnold obtained her Public Health Nurse certification in 1942 and M.S. in nursing education in 1944 from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1944, Arnold shifted her focus to international service. Serving as a commissioned officer of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, she traveled to Egypt and Greece, where she helped organize public health nursing services and education. She worked for the International Council of Nurses in London from 1946 to 1949, and then returned to the USPHS. As Chief Nurse of the USPHS’s Division of International Health, she supervised nursing programs in 41 countries.

Arnold joined the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in 1956 as Assistant Director for Medical Education and Public Health, responsible for developing the RF’s nursing programs. She became Associate Director for Medical and Natural Sciences in 1964. Arnold was instrumental in the development of nursing programs at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia and the World Health Organization’s regional center for nursing education at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.  Upon her retirement from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1967, the RF’s Director for Medical and Natural Sciences, Dr. John M. Weir, said, “Virginia guided the School of Nursing at the University of Valle through its early development to its present position as a model of nursing education in Latin America.  She also formulated plans for the development of nursing in Africa and Southeast Asia, and has exerted considerable influence on nursing programs in our own country.”

Arnold received a number of awards and honors for her work, including an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Delaware in 1957, and the first Distinguished Alumni Award in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania alumni association in 1964. In 1967, she was honored by the Universidad del Valle and received a citation from the National League for Nursing in recognition of her contributions to the field of nursing education.

Virginia Arnold died in her home state of Delaware in 1989. Her officer’s diaries can be accessed at the Rockefeller Archive Center.