On May 20, 1889, Elisa P. Perkins, former
superintendent of Bellevue Training School for
Nurses in New York City, sat down at a desk in her home on
North Washington Street in Norwich,
Conn., and wrote a five-page letter to Daniel Coit Gilman,
who had just recently been pressed into
service as director of The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also
was president of the university.
She was responding to a letter from Gilman in which he
had asked for her opinion of Isabel
Adams Hampton, a candidate for superintendent of the new
nursing school that was scheduled to open,
along with the hospital, eight months later, in November
Gilman knew he needed to recruit an experienced
nursing educator, someone whose leadership
skills quickly would make Johns Hopkins the premier school
of nursing in the country. He thought
Isabel Hampton might be the right person for the job.
In her letter, neatly written on 5-by-7 stationery
(and now on file in the Hamburger Archives of
the Eisenhower Library), Perkins said that she knew Hampton
"very well as she was two years with me
at Bellevue, the first year taking the training in the
various departments of the hospital and attending
classes and lectures, the second year, as head nurse for
six months in a medical ward, and six months
over a surgical ward."
She described Hampton as an "exceptionally
intelligent, faithful, conscientious nurse and
especially valuable when employed as head of a ward and
trainer of probationers."
After graduating with honors in 1883, Hampton had gone
to Rome, where she worked for 18
months at the Home for Trained Nurses, mainly providing
private nursing to patients. Perkins wrote
that Hampton had "studied Latin, French and German before
she came to our school." She said that
most people did not think "the advantages of culture and
the study of languages" were important for
nurses, but she believed otherwise. "After extensive
observation," she said, "such nurses are most
valuable and acceptable in private service and, for a
Superintendent of a nursing school, superior
education and cultivation are essential qualifications."
Saying that no recommendation is complete "without
mentioning the faults" of a candidate,
Perkins said that while Hampton had "warm friends among her
classmates, she was not popular" (a
point Gilman underlined with his pencil) and "was thought
reserved and exclusive." She added, "I
should say she might err in over strictness."
She told Gilman that she had hoped that one of
Bellevue's graduates would become the "head of
the Johns Hopkins School, and of all those who have applied
for it, I consider Miss Hampton best
fitted for the position." Prior to coming to Johns Hopkins,
Isabel Hampton was superintendent of the
Cooke County Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago from
1886 to 1889.
Gilman's faith in her abilities and Perkins' strong
endorsement were proved quickly in Baltimore.
Hampton extended the Johns Hopkins program from two to
three years. She instituted eight-
hour workdays. She established the Alumnae Association and
created a Nurses Journal Club (and was a
founder of the American Journal of Nursing). She organized
a group of nursing school superintendents
from around the nation that would later become the National
League for Nursing, and was president of
that organization in 1909. She also was the first president
of Nurses Associated Alumnae of the
United States and Canada, now the American Nurses
In 1894 she moved to Cleveland after marrying Hunter
Robb, who was professor of gynecology
at Case Western Reserve University, and had two sons. She
helped lay the groundwork for the first
school of nursing at Case Western, and she wrote three
major nursing textbooks. At age 50, she was
struck by a trolley in Cleveland and died.
The Hampton House building on the East Baltimore
campus, originally a dormitory for nursing
students, memorializes her contributions to Johns Hopkins
and the field of nursing education.