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HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY
Harriet Helen Werley
A SALUTE TO ONE OF OUR OWN
Harriet Helen Werley
12 October 1914 to 14 October 2002
Nursing history contains a virtual collage of faces, names and events. From the classic contributions of nurses such as Florence Nightingale, Lillian Wald and Lavinia Dock, to the modern leadership of nursing theorists such as Virginia Henderson, Martha Rogers and Mary Adelaide Nutting, nursing visionaries have continually broadened the scope of nursing. Harriet H. Werley, one of the Army Nurse Corps own, joins the ranks of this elite group. Werley served her nation as an Army Nurse Corps officer from 1 August 1941 through 31 January 1964. After her retirement, she continued her pursuit of the advancement of nursing research and education within the civilian nursing community. Werley's life-long contribution to the promotion of nursing research and excellence in clinical and academic nursing deserves tribute.
Born in Berks, Pennsylvania on 12 October 1914 to Thomas G. and Cora Werley, Werley experienced the challenges of growing up during the depression of the 1930's. At age 12, Werley's father died. Her family struggled financially, however, she was able to graduate from high school and eventually saved enough money to enter nursing school. Her father's untimely death motivated her to pursue a nursing career. She graduated from the Jefferson Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia in 1940. Commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps in 1941, Werley served with the 7th Station Hospital in the Mediterranean theater during World War II. She served overseas for 37 continuous months. As a young nurse corps officer in a wartime environment, Werley gained valuable insights that would fuel her future endeavors. During a break in service from 1946 until 1948, Werley completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing Education at the University of California School of Nursing at Berkeley. She returned to active duty and served as Assistant Chief Nurse and Chief Nurse of the station hospital located in Camp Stoneman, California. Answering an internal need for greater knowledge, Werley completed her Master's degree in Nursing Administration in 1951 at Teacher's College, Columbia University, New York under army sponsorship. Werley's future endeavors would be grounded by this education that she held as invaluable.
From 1951 to 1955 Werley was a member of the career guidance and planning section of the Army Nurse Corps, located at the Office of the Surgeon General. Werley felt strongly regarding nursing education. During this four-year tour, she was instrumental in guiding the ANC to an all bachelor prepared Corps. It was also during this tenure that she developed the ANC Career Planning Program. This program would provide career guidance to Army Nurse Corps officers. Werley had the opportunity to examine the opportunities available to Nurse Corps officers. She was dismayed by the lack of recognizable positions in the field of research. Werley had found her calling. Her future work would concentrate on nursing research.
In July 1955, Werley began work in the Department of Atomic Casualties Studies at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR). As a result of her work with this project, Werley identified the importance of nursing involvement in disaster preparedness training and programs. She worked on clinical short courses and published findings related to the topic of mass casualties and disaster preparedness. Her involvement with WRAIR activities forced her to examine why nurses were not more involved in studies. She wondered why nurses were not examining their practice as other professions did.
Utilizing a staff study that outlined her ideas for a department of nursing research study, Werley advocated for the entrance of nursing into the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR). She submitted the study to the director of the Institute of Research and it was approved. On February 25, 1957, a WRAIR nursing research department with Werley at the helm came into existence. This was only the second such entity in the country. Werley served in the capacity of Chief, Department of Nursing WRAIR until August 1962. She was instrumental in developing a productive and relevant nursing research program. Her efforts resulted in numerous completions of nursing research projects, identification of talented nursing researchers, inclusion of nurses in medical research and an overall implementation of a scholarly nursing research program.
In September of 1962, Werley completed her military career with a tour as the chief nurse of the U.S. Eighth Army. She was stationed in Seoul, Korea. At the conclusion of this assignment, Werley decided to leave the military and pursue a doctoral program. Werley retired on 31 January 1964 as a Lieutenant Colonel. She acquired her doctorate in June 1969 at the University of Utah.
Within civilian nursing, Werley's career had numerous milestones. After completing her doctorate, several universities benefited from her promotion of nursing research. From September 1969 until the early 80's, Werley held various faculty and administrative positions at Wayne State University College of Nursing, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Werley supplied these faculties with enthusiasm, energy and focus in order to promote nursing research development. During this time, Werley was the founding editor of Research in Nursing and Health and the series, Annual Review of Nursing Research. She also was instrumental as a leader in the nursing informatics arena with her development of a Nursing Minimum Data Set (NDMS). Werley completed her illustrious academic career as a distinguished professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Although she formally retired in 1991, Werley continued mentoring and guiding research programs at the school until 1997.
Werley's nursing career spanned over a 50-year period. Her legacy to the profession of nursing is enormous. The Army Nurse Corps and the profession of nursing recognize, with great honor, the passing of a nursing icon. We salute, Harriet Helen Werley, who died on October 14, 2002, at the age of 88 years.
"Nursing is a profession through which one can go in many different directions and have satisfying careers. If what you are doing does not suit you completely you do not need to be stuck with it. You can branch out into being a nurse clinician or a nurse practitioner, an educator, an administrator, a researcher, a consultant, and so on. Nursing provides many, many rich opportunities."
Historical Data located at the Army Nurse Corps Collection, United States Army, Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General, Washington D.C.