Public health nursing pioneer Jane Elizabeth Hitchcock was born into an Amherst, Massachusetts, family with deep roots in higher education.
Her father, Edward Hitchcock Jr., earned a doctor of medicine from Harvard and developed the first-ever program in physical education at Amherst College, one that became a model for PE programs around the world. Her grandfather, Edward Hitchcock Sr., was a noted geologist who served as the third president of Amherst College, and her grandmother, Orra White Hitchcock, was an accomplished scientific illustrator.
Jane Hitchcock was educated at Mount Holyoke as well as Cornell University. Rather than teaching—the most common profession for women of her era—she chose a career in nursing. In 1891, she graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses. After working as head nurse at Newton Hospital in Massachusetts, she moved to New York City.
As a nurse and supervisor at the Henry Street Settlement on New York’s Lower East Side, Hitchcock helped shape and promote the growing field of public health nursing. In addition to working with patients, she spoke and published on public health nursing and is credited with establishing the nursing program of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
Hitchcock taught at the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in New York from 1922 to 1928. During World War I, she was director of the nursing division for the American Red Cross Bureau of Placement. She served for many years on the New York State Board of Nurse Examiners (the first such board in the nation) and played a key role in the development of licensure examinations for nurses.