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Nursing Journals: History and Significance

By Leslie Nicoll and Peggy Chinn

Mysteries of Publishing
History of Nursing Journals

As part of our series on the “Mysteries of Publishing” we are introducing what can be considered a “subseries” focusing on the history and significance of nursing journals.  We (Leslie and Peggy) are actively involved in the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE) along with about 600 others who are currently involved in producing nursing journals as editors, publishers, board members, or other roles of leadership in journal production. Here is how we describe the purpose of INANE:

INANE is an international collaborative – a collective of nursing editors and publishers focused on meeting the practice, research and education needs of the nursing profession. Established in 1982, the group has organized an annual conference every year since – all without a formal organizational structure. Our primary mission is to promote best practices in publishing and high standards in the nursing literature. (from

We sometimes refer to the group as a “non-organization” — a trait that, like the name of our group itself, reflects our delight in satire and word play that helps keep us grounded and humble! We have no officers, no by-laws, and no committees in a traditional sense, so when someone has an idea for something to be done, the group understanding is that the response will simply be: “go for it!”  This is exactly how the two of us came to be involved in several initiatives to uncover and preserve certain historical threads that we believe to be significant and influential in the development of nursing knowledge and of nursing as a profession.  This series of posts will feature stories of several nursing journals – how they came to be, what significant changes emerged as the journal matured, and what specific role the journal plays in the ongoing development of the discipline.  

The earliest nursing journals in English were published in the United Kingdom,  starting in 1888 and included Nursing Record (later the British Journal of Nursing, publication ceased in 1956); Nursing Mirror and Midwives Journal (incorporated into Nursing Times in 1978); and Midwives Chronicle and Nursing Notes (now published as Evidence Based Midwifery and a magazine, Midwives). In the United States, the American Journal of Nursing was established in 1900 and has been published continuously for 122 years.  There are now approximately 300 nursing journals, many published in English-speaking countries, but a significant number also published in countries around the world.  The  Directory of Nursing Journals, established in collaboration with the INANE and Nurse Author & Editor, documents the current existence of 270 nursing journals that have been vetted for credibility and meeting ethical standards of publication. 

Unfortunately however, much of the history documenting the emergence of nursing journals has been lost. Publishers and editors are more concerned with the day-to-day challenges of producing a journal, and while changes or new developments, such as the appointment of a new editor, garner attention when they are current, once the next phase or development unfolds there is little provision for documenting exactly what happened when. With the great migration from paper to online publishing that happened in the years spanning the late 20th and early 21st century, even more of this history faded into obscurity. Journal publishers digitized articles, but failed to digitize the front matter of their paper journals—the only spot where historically significant facts about the journal leadership (ie, editor, associate editor(s), and editorial board members), publisher, and journal purpose and mission, were located. This information was included on a page or two that was traditionally called “the masthead” or “the front matter.” The table of contents was also often lost.  In paper journals, information on the masthead usually remained stable and unchanging over many issues, so today, the only way to pinpoint important shifts in a journal is to scan these front matter pages with an eye to noticing what has changed!  

Prior to digital archiving, many libraries opted to purchase microfilm or microfiche copies of journals, and discard their paper volumes. The good news is that microfilm/fiche usually included the front matter and masthead. The bad news is that many libraries no longer have the equipment to view journals preserved in this format. In addition, as the film ages, it becomes very fragile and prone to being easily damaged or destroyed.

What is the best way to capture this information, before it becomes completely lost and inaccessible? We don’t have definitive answers to this question, but we have two initiatives underway: the Nursing Editors History Project (NEHP) and the INANE Nursing Journal Hall of Fame. The NEHP was started in 2015 and has four purposes:

The NEHP is housed at the University of Connecticut and work is ongoing, albeit slowly. For the NEHP, we have recruited volunteers to go to a library and review either the microfilm/fiche journals, or venture into the stacks where paper volumes of nursing journals are archived. In either case, the volunteer carefully examines the front matter of each issue and records changes with names and dates. Occasionally, photographs of editors are included and those are captured, too. When available, the first and last editorial written by each of the editors of the journal are photocopied. These editorials typically spell out that person’s vision for the journal, and reveal ways in which they anticipate leading the journal in fulfilling the purposes of the journal.  A bonus is when the new editor gives some history, listing prior editors and their terms of service. This valuable information makes the search process a little easier and less tedious!

The INANE Nursing Journal Hall of Fame was established in 2018 with a purpose to recognize journals that have made significant, sustained contributions to the discipline of nursing through dissemination of research, practice innovations, and nursing knowledge.To be considered for the Hall of Fame, a journal must have 50 or more years of continuous publication with sustained contributions to nursing knowledge. Eligible journals are inducted at the INANE annual meeting. To date, 31 journals have been recognized and an additional 9 have received an honorable mention. You can learn more at the INANE website which includes the list of journals and information about their histories, in both slides and videos.

Both the NEHP and the INANE Nursing Journal Hall of Fame focus on editorial and journal leadership.2 The history of nursing since the Nightingale era can be traced through our publications. Taking a step back and looking at the “big picture” makes trends and changes apparent. For example, the earliest Hall of Fame journals were society/association journals with a broad readership base. Specialty journals began to emerge in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by journals with a specific focus on research (ie, Nursing Research in 1952).

The Editors and Editors-in-Chief play a major role in shaping the nature of the journal and defining the particular contributions that the content of the journal makes to the development of the discipline.  This leadership, and the influence coming from publishers, readers, and authors, creates a story that reveals how the journal came to be what it is in the current moment. Each journal has a particular story—just as each of us as individuals has a personal history/story of how we came to be who we are today.  In this new series “History of Nursing Journals” we will share some of these stories.  So stay tuned – the first story will appear soon!  


1. Nicoll LH. Recognizing Excellence in knowledge dissemination: The Nursing Journal Hall of Fame. Can J Nurs Res. 2020;52(3):209-215. doi:10.1177/0844562120938940

2. Blancett SS. Nursing journalism leadership. Nurs Adm Q. 1997;22(1):16-22.

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