This Week in History


Public health pioneer Margaret Arnstein appointed dean of Yale School of Nursing

March 13, 1967

Born in New York City in 1904, Margaret Arnstein grew up in a family deeply involved in social health and welfare projects. Her uncle, Herbert Lehman, would serve as a U.S. Senator from New York. Her father was president of Mount Sinai Hospital and also New York City's welfare commissioner. Both parents were involved with the Henry Street Settlement, where they befriended nursing pioneer Lillian Wald. Perhaps with this inspiration, Margaret resisted her parents' desire for her to become a doctor and chose a career in nursing.

After graduating from Smith College in 1925, Arnstein earned nursing and public health degrees from New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University and the Johns Hopkins University. She spent eight years in the New York State Department of Health Communicable Disease Division. Believing that nurses should be involved in health policy and research in addition to direct care, Arnstein pioneered innovative nursing research at the Department. Arnstein taught public nursing for a few years at the University of Minnesota, but returned to New York where, as a state nursing officer during World War II, she organized emergency community squads that would be called into action in the case of epidemics or enemy attacks.

In 1943, Arnstein expanded her own horizons through public health work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, serving as the chief nurse of its mission in the Balkans. From her role in developing nursing services for war refugees, she joined the U.S. Public Health Service in 1946, directing aspects of its public health nursing programs, and becoming head of its nursing division in 1960. During her years with the Public Health Service, she remained involved with international initiatives, directing the first International Conference on Nursing Studies.

After a few years as a professor of public health at the University of Michigan, Arnstein became dean of the Yale University School of Nursing on March 13, 1967. As dean, she brought Yale's nursing school into the forefront of nursing education. Arnstein's lifetime of work was well recognized in her later years. In 1966, she became the first woman to receive the prestigious Rockefeller Public Service Award. In 1971, she received the Sedgewick Memorial Medal, the American Public Health Association's highest honor. Arnstein died of cancer in 1972.

To learn more about Margaret Arnstein, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: The women honored by the passage of healthcare reform, Jewesses with Attitude; Jewish Women On the Map - Smith College;

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 65-66; New York Times, September 28, 1937, August 23, 1942, September 25, 1943, March 14, 1967, October 9, 1972.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Public health pioneer Margaret Arnstein appointed dean of Yale School of Nursing." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.