Rosa Zimmern Van Vort
1876 – 1944
A member of Virginia’s first generation of trained nurses, Rosa Zimmern Van Vort devoted her career to the training and education of nurses.
The daughter of Isaac and Hettie (Zimmern) Van Vort, Rosa Zimmern Van Vort was born in Richmond, Virginia, on August 6, 1876. Her family belonged to Temple Beth Ahabah, Richmond’s second-oldest congregation. She attended public schools, graduated from Richmond High School, and at age twenty-one, entered the Old Dominion Hospital Training School for Nurses at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. This training school, organized by Sadie Health Cabaniss in 1895, was modeled on the Nightingale plan. Van Vort herself said that she was a “student of Florence Nightingale four times removed.”
Her two-year course of study consisted of eight-hour shifts in the hospital and special-duty service during weekends, with little time for formal instruction. This experience made a lasting impression on Van Vort and she sought to improve the quality of training and reduce work hours for student nurses throughout her career. Following her graduation from the hospital training school in 1899, Van Vort attended courses at the Philadelphia Orthopedic Hospital and Teachers College, Columbia University, where she came into contact with M. Adelaide Nutting, a prominent leader in nursing education.
Van Vort returned to Old Dominion Hospital and served as acting superintendent in the final months of its operation. In 1903, she moved with the training school to the Medical College of Virginia’s new teaching facility, the Memorial Hospital. She subsequently became superintendent of nurses and principal of the training school in 1904, serving until 1913. Following her experience at Memorial Hospital, Van Vort organized a training school at the newly established Stuart Circle Hospital in Richmond. She served as superintendent and principal of the training school from 1913 until 1924. After a brief stint as superintendent at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Richmond, Van Vort moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she reorganized the nursing school at the city’s General Hospital. She returned to Virginia a year later and appears to have retired.
During World War I, Van Vort served on the state and city councils of defense, where she was responsible for recruiting nurses. The national Red Cross selected her and two other Richmond women to enroll nurses in Red Cross service. For these efforts, she received a special award in 1922.
Her most significant contribution to professional nursing and nursing education was her leadership in the organization of the Virginia State League of Nursing. The league was organized in January of 1918, and the members elected Van Vort as the first president. She served for four terms, stepping down following the 1922 annual meeting. During her tenure as president, the league successfully fought legislation requiring a compulsory eight-hour day for student nurses. Van Vort was also a charter member of the Virginia State Association of Nurses.
Plagued by ill health for the last decade of her life, Van Vort was forced to limit her professional activities, but she maintained her interest in the profession and periodically attended meetings.
Rosa Zimmern Van Vort died at her home on February 13, 1944.
McLeod, Josephine S. “Nurse Practice in Action In Virginia,” Bits of News 5 (July 1936): 18–29; Obituaries. Bits of News 12 (April 1944): 14–15, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 14, 1944; School of Nursing, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia League for Nursing, and Virginia Nurses’ Association. Records. Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; WWIAJ (1928, 1938).