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Ernestine Wiedenbach


"My thesis is that nursing art is not comprised of rational nor reactionary actions but rather of deliberative action." Wiedenbach, 1964



Ernestine Wiedenbach was an early nursing leader who is probably best known for her work in theory development and maternal infant nursing.  She wrote with Dickoff and James, a classic article on theory in a practice discipline that is still used today when studying the evolution of nursing theory.  Ms. Wiedenbach was born into an affluent family in 1900 and was brought up in a refined and gentile manor.  Her family immigrated from Germany when she was a young child and her interest in nursing began while watching the care of her sickly grandmother. Later she enjoyed hearing her sister's friend who was a medical student, accounts of his experiences in the hospital setting. Wiedenbach was so impressed with the role of nurses that after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Wellesley College in 1922, she enrolled in nursing school much to the dismay of her parents.

According to Nickel, Gesse and MacLaren, 1992, Wiedenbach first entered Post-Graduate Hospital School of Nursing but after an "encounter with the school's administration" where she was the spokesperson for a student groups grievances, she was expelled.   Adelaide Nutting, a Johns Hopkins alumna, intervened on her behalf and contacted Elsie Lawler, Director of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing who allowed Wiedenbach to continue her nursing studies.  Ms. Wiedenbach credits Nutting for the ability to become a nurse.  Ms. Wiedenbach, however, had to agree that she would not under any circumstances, try to organize or encourage dissent among the Hopkins nursing students.  She complied with all the rules of the nursing program at that time when even "bobbing" one's hair was grounds for dismissal.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins in 1925, she was offered supervisor positions because she held a bachelors degree.  She worked at Johns Hopkins and later at Bellevue in New York.  Wiedenbach continued her education at Teachers College, Columbia University by attending night classes, where she received a master’s degree and a Certificate in Public Health Nursing in 1934. Ms. Wiedenbach left the hospital setting and worked with public health nurse from Henry Street Settlement as a nurse for the Association for Improving Conditions of the Poor (AICP).

Wiedenbach left clinical nursing and worked as a professional writer with the Nursing Information Bureau (NIB) for the American Journal of Nursing.  She developed her writing ability and made many important professional contacts.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ms. Wiedenbach worked through the NIB to prepare nurses to enter World War II.  A minor heart ailment prevented Wiedenbach from serving oversees during the war.

After the war, Wiedenbach stated that she wished to return to patient care and the director of the Maternity Center Association of New York, Hazel Corbin, persuaded her to enroll in the School for Midwives at the age of 45. After graduating, Wiedenbach practiced as a nurse-midwife at the Maternity Center Association and taught evening courses at Teachers College in advanced maternity nursing.  Ms. Wiedenbach stated that her favorite part of the practice of midwifery was attendance in home deliveries. 

In 1952, Wiedenbach was appointed to the faculty of Yale University School of Nursing where she became the director of graduate programs in maternal-newborn health nursing, which began in 1956.  She recalled that she did not accept her position with the intent of establishing a nurse midwifery program, however, she did lobby for the inclusion of midwifery when Yale started it's graduate programs.  In 1958 she wrote a nursing classic, Family-Centered Maternity Nursing, a comprehensive text on obstetrical nursing.

Wiedenbach taught with Ida Orlando at Yale and collaborated with Patricia James and William Dickoff about nursing and philosophy.  Ernestine Wiedenbach’s model of clinical nursing was developed on the basis of her years of knowledge in the clinical and teaching setting as well as her professional contacts. According to Wiedenbach there are four elements to clinical nursing: (1) philosophy, (2) purpose, (3) practice, and (4) art.

Ernestine Wiedenbach has many books and articles in publication . Some of her works are Wiedenbach, E. (1958). Family-centered maternity nursing, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Wiedenbach, E. (1964). Clinical nursing: A helping art. New York: Springer.  The article written by Nickel, Gesse and MacLaren in 1992 in the Journal of Nurse-Midwifery is excellent and served as a reference for many of the personal facts presented on the web site.  The reading of their article is a must for anyone studying the influence of Ernestine Wiedenbach.  A series of audio tapes and interviews with Ms. Wiedenbach serve as the basis for the article entitled "Ernestine Wiedenbach: Her Professional Legacy".  

 Miss Wiedenbach retired in 1966.  She never married and died at the age of 97 on March 8, 1998.  Guide to Ernestine Wiedenbach papers, Yale University 2003)

Additional information obtained from.    Sitzman, K. & Eichelberger, L. 2003 Understanding the Work of Nurse Theorist  Jones and Bartlett: Boston

 Tomey A. M. & Allgood. M. R., 1998 Nursing Theorist and Their Work 4th ed. CV Mosby: St. Louis

Overview of theory: 

List of Wiedenbach's books:

Artistic Impression of Wiedenbach's theory using Pointillism  This pointillism was created in 2004

Overview of her work:

Chapter Eight: "Understanding the work of nurse theorists:  A creative beginning" by Sitzman, K. and Eichelberger, L. W. 2004 Jones and Bartlett Sudbury: MA

  •     Communication in nursing-under construction

  •     Teaching clinical nursing-under construction

Website created in 2000 by Lisa Wright Eichelberger, DSN, RN