Anna Kaplan

by Nira Bartal

Anna Kaplan was an American Jewish nurse who contributed significantly to developing the concept of nursing as a profession in The Land of IsraelErez Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century. She was a leader in founding the nursing school, which later became the Henrietta Szold-Hadassah School of Nursing at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A member of AZMU (American Zionist Medical Unit), later Hadassah, Anna Kaplan stayed in Palestine for nine years, unlike most of her twenty colleagues in the AZMU delegation.

Kaplan was born in Bialystok, Poland (then under Russian rule), around the end of the nineteenth century. At an early age, she left her native city and immigrated to America. Some years after her arrival there, she entered the school for registered nurses at Lebanon Hospital in New York City, graduating in 1910. Her first position was as a night supervisor in Lebanon Hospital. From 1914 to 1918 she worked in public health, most probably in New York City.

In Palestine, beginning in 1920, Kaplan was the matron at Hadassah, filling several positions at once: director of the nursing school, nursing supervisor at Rothschild Hospital in Jerusalem and its clinics, as well as at the other Hadassah hospitals in Jaffa, Tiberias, Haifa and Safed, and in the clinics being opened in small settlements. Kaplan also had to see to equipment and supplies. The year 1921 saw the beginning of a community nursing project and the advancement of health-care clinics throughout the country. First developed by Bertha Landesman, the project was overseen by Kaplan. In 1922, Kaplan wrote in her report to the Hadassah organization in New York that “the actual nursing in our hospital is the same as in America, except that it is harder owing to the lack of modern equipment which most modern hospitals possess.” In 1927 there were three hundred nurses working in Hadassah’s institutions under her supervision. The sixty-four registered nurses who graduated during the time Kaplan directed the nursing school constituted a significant contribution to the growing Jewish and Arab populations since many of the nurses took up organizational and administrative positions.

Throughout her years in Palestine, Kaplan fought to preserve the status of nursing in the Hadassah Medical Organization in particular and among the country’s Jewish and Arab population in general. Like the nursing leadership in the United States, which was influenced by the country’s progressive movement, Kaplan believed in the prime importance of education in turning nursing into a profession. She translated material that served as the first Hebrew-language manual on nursing, established the regulations of the nursing school, oversaw discipline, obtained permission for the graduates to take the licensing examinations of New York State and formulated a proposal for a university program in nursing.

During one of her vacations Kaplan studied at Columbia University Teachers’ College in New York, taking several courses in hospital management and public health. In the 1920s Kaplan, representing the nurses for the Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine, began to formalize the connections with the International Council of Nurses. She also made working trips to other countries, visiting Poland in 1922 and Russia in 1930, after her departure from Palestine.

After Kaplan left Palestine for New York at the end of 1927, she maintained contact with Hadassah and in 1938 even negotiated with the organization regarding a management position in Jerusalem, where the Hadassah University Hospital was to be opened the following year. However, Kaplan never returned to Palestine, despite the profound longing to do so which she expressed in letters to the heads of Hadassah. From 1928 to 1937 Kaplan served as the Directress of Nurses at Beth-Moses Hospital in Brooklyn. Never married, she spent the last years of her life in Manhattan.

Kaplan’s speeches and actions reveal a deep faith influenced by the ideology of Hadassah and especially that of Henrietta Szold, with whom she had ties of both profession and friendship. With her organizational skill and clear view of the concept of nursing, Kaplan helped lay the groundwork for the recognition of nursing as a profession in Palestine. Writing an article in 1938 on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the school’s founding, Chaja Zaslavsky-Kopilevitch, chairwoman of the nursing school alumnae, described Kaplan as the founder of the school who fashioned it on a “solid foundation.”


Kaplan, Anna. “Two Years’ Work in Palestine by Anna Kaplan, Superintendent, Nurses’ Training School, American Zionist Medical Unit, Jerusalem, 1921.” Rose Jacobs Archive, Central Zionist Archive, A/375/235; Ibid. “A Training School of Nurses in Jerusalem, Palestine.” 1925 (?); Idem. “Work Sharing at the Beth Moses Hospital.” American Journal of Nursing 33:1 (1933): 36, 70; Idem. “The First Nine Years.” Hadassah Newsletter, 1938: 127–129, 138.


Bartal, Nira. “Anna Kaplan.” In American Nursing: A Biographical Dictionary. Edited by V. L. Bullough and L. Sentz, 155–157. Vol. 3, New York: 2000; Idem. “Theoretical and Practical Training of Jewish Nurses in Mandatory Jerusalem.” Ph. D. diss., Hebrew University (Hebrew). Jerusalem, 2000; Idem. “Establishment of a Nursing School in Jerusalem by the American Zionist Medical Unit, 1918: Continuation or Revolution?” In Jewish Women in the Yishuv and Zionism: A Gender Perspective. Edited by Margalit Shilo, Ruth Kark, and Galit Hasan-Rokem (Hebrew). Jerusalem: 2001; Melosh, B. “The Physician’s Hand”: Work, Culture and Conflict in American Nursing. Philadelphia: 1982; “On Miss Kaplan’s Resignation.” (Hebrew). Hadassah Newsletter 10–12 (1927): 14–15.

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The nurse standing first from the right is my grandmother Rivka Abrams Blumenfeld, also from Lebanon Hospital in New York. She lived all her life in Israel and died in Jerusalem in 1951 or 1952.

First graduating class of the Hadassah School of Nursing, Anna Kaplan is seated in the front row, first from the left, 1921.
Courtesy of Nina Bartal.

How to cite this page

Bartal, Nira. "Anna Kaplan." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 13, 2021) <>.


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