The effectiveness of public health nursing in promoting maternal and child health through home visits is summarized from empirical studies published between 1960 and 1984. Eight reports identified through a comprehensive reference search were first classified according to the components of nursing service studied (assessment, teaching, counseling or support, referral, and clinical services). The results of each study were then analyzed for study population characteristics, the research design and statistical methods employed, the reliability of the measures used, significant treatment effects, sample size, and statistical power. The research is evenly divided among studies employing an experimental design, a quasi-experimental design, and samples of low-income and middle-income mothers. The reliability of the measures was, with one exception, not reported. All but one study had final sample sizes for treatment and control or comparison groups of fewer than 100 subjects. Four of the studies thus had sample sizes sufficiently large to detect a medium treatment effect; power calculations showed that none could measure a small treatment impact. Within the methodological limitations of these studies, our review found that under certain circumstances public health nurses can effectively impart health knowledge to high-risk mothers and can effect positive change in maternal attitudes and parenting practices that in turn can be associated with positive changes in infant health and development. Cumulative knowledge from this body of research suggests that a priority for future evaluations of public health nursing is development of theoretical frameworks that maximize the fit between the needs of the population served and the services provided and between the outcomes measured and the nursing services being assessed.