Thelma M. Schorr (Dec 15, 1924 – )

Guardian of the Discipline

Thelma Schorr is among the greatest of nursing journal editors, serving at the American Journal of Nursing (AJN) company for forty years from 1950-1990. She progressed from editorial assistant to editor-in-chief, and then ten years as president and publisher. When she assumed the editorship of AJN, Thelma assured that the journal provided news for & about nursing, often unavailable otherwise, because this content covered labor issues that hospitals would rather suppress.

Thelma was the de-facto “founder” of the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE), gathering together a small group of editors in 1982 to form a new kind of network dedicated solely to the improvement of nursing literature (see inaugural photo below). She was instrumental in creating INANE as an independent “non-organization” functioning as an international collaborative – a collective of nursing editors and publishers focused on meeting the practice, research and education needs of the nursing profession, maintaining a tradition of “non-organization” (meaning that there are no formal officers, no elections, no dues!). (see https://nursingeditors.com/about/). Thelma was honored with INANE’s Margaret Comerford Freda Editorial Leadership Award in 2020, recognizing her enduring influence on nursing journal publishing.

Early in her career prior to joining the AJN company, Thelma launched her illustrious career in journalism by engaging the press to address a health crisis of the time. As a staff nursse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, she was alarmed that the hospital was keeping active TB patients on an open ward. She fought to have them isolated on a separate unit and no one would listen. So she contacted NY CBS reporter Gabe Pressman and he broke the story, forcing NY Health & Hospitals to provide isolation units for active TB patients.

— Thelma Schorr (circa 1990)

From that early start, Thelma became a life-long mover and a shaker.  She led the way to establish the role of the journal editor as an independent, autonomous function not to be driven or manipulated by organizational or commercial interests.  With the rise of feminism in the 70s, Thelma’s editorials emphasized that nursing was not to be subsumed under “medicine,” that “healthcare” was the proper umbrella term. Gradually public media followed this lead. She envisioned possibilities for nursing as a significant discipline in its own right (not as assistants to physicians) and shaped all of her actions to reflect and promote nursing’s professional identity.

Thelma Schorr at age 93

During her tenure at the AJN company, she directed the publication of multiple nursing journals and pioneered the inclusion of continuing education articles in nursing journals. Along with Anne Zimmerman, she co-edited Making Choices, Taking Chances: Nurse Leaders Tell Their Stories in 1988, and in 1999, co-wrote with Shawn Kennedy, 100 Years of American Nursing.

Thelma is widely known for her dedication to first-time, inexperienced authors to learn to write for publication.  She welcomed creative ideas and encouraged nurses to value their own experience and knowledge.  She pioneered the practice of making  continuing education available in print journals, making it possible for all nurses to pursue life-long learning to improve patient care. For this, AJN received magazine publishing’s highest award – the Ellie (elephant statue) from the American Society of Magazine Editors. She also pioneered programmed instruction, which was a forerunner of computer instruction. These were offered in the 1970s, long before personal computers & Internet.

Thelma’s editorial leadership has left an unmatched mark on nursing, one that all nursing editors seek to emulate.

— Inaugural INANE meeting attendees

Seated, L to R: Unidentified, Elinor S. Schrader (Editor AORN), Thelma M. Schorr (editor, AJN), Rozella Schlotfeld, Dean Case Western University & guest speaker), Sue Hegyvary (Associate dean and Assistant V.P., RPSLMC, Chicago & introduced symposium).Standing, L to R: unidentified, Julie Stillman (Little Brown and Co.), Patricia (Tucker) Nornhold, Peggy Chinn (Editor ANS), Leah Curtin (Editor, Supervisor Nurse), Alison Miller (C.V. Mosby Co), Richard H. Lampert (Appleton-Century-Croft), Shirley H. Fondiller (assistant to the dean for special programs and projects, RPSLMC, and Program Coordinator for the first National Journalism Symposium, April 1981)

Note: portions of this post were previously posted on the INANE website – https://nursingeditors.com/awards/margaret-comerford-freda-leadership-award/recipients-of-the-margaret-comerford-freda-leadership-award/)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.