When the business of nursing was the nursing business: the private duty registry system, 1900-1940

Online J Issues Nurs. 2012 May 31;17(2):6.


In the initial decades of the 20th century, most nurses worked in the private sector as private duty nurses dependent on their own resources for securing and obtaining employment with individual patients. To organize and systematize the ways in which nurses sought jobs, a structure of private duty registries, agencies which connected nurses with patients, was established via professional nurse associations. This article describes the origins of the private duty nurse labor market as the main employment field for early nurses and ways in which the private duty registry system connected nurses and patients. The impact of professional nurses associations and two registries, (New York and Chicago) illustrates how the business of nursing was carried out, including registry formation, operation, and administration. Private duty nurses are compelling examples of a previous generation of nurse entrepreneurs. The discussion identifies problems and challenges of private nursing practice via registries, including the decline and legacy of this innovative nurse role. The story of early 20th century nurse owned and operated registries provides an early and critical historical illustration of the realization of nurse power, entrepreneurship, and control over professional practice that we still learn from today.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / organization & administration
  • Entrepreneurship / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Nursing Staff / organization & administration*
  • Nursing Staff / supply & distribution*
  • Nursing, Private Duty / organization & administration*
  • Registries*