By | March 25, 2022





  • Hildegard Elizabeth Peplau (September 1, 1909 – March 17, 1999) was an American nurse who was the only person to serve as Executive Director and then President of the American Nurses Association (ANA). Since Florence Nightingale, she was the first published nursing thinker.
  • Peplau was best known for her Theory of Interpersonal Relations, which revolutionized nursing research. Her accomplishments were lauded by nurses all over the world, and she was dubbed the “Mother of Psychiatric Nursing” and the “Nurse of the Century” by many.

Early Life

  • On September 1, 1909, Hildegard Peplau was born. Gustav and Otyllie Peplau, her German-born parents, raised her in Reading, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of four children, with two sisters and three brothers.
  • Her father persevered despite his illiteracy, but her mother was a perfectionist and repressive. Peplau’s urge to go beyond traditional women’s duties was precise, given her young age. Nursing, she believes, was one of the few employment options available to women at the time.
  • She observed the catastrophic flu epidemic of 1918, which had a profound impact on her knowledge of the consequences of illness and death on families.


  • When the Nightingale era’s autonomous, nursing-controlled schools came to an end in the early 1900s, schools were taken over by hospitals, and so-called formal “book learning” was abandoned. Women in nursing were seen as a source of free or low-cost labor by hospitals and clinicians. Employers of nurses, physicians, and educational institutions were all guilty of exploitation.
  • She graduated from the School of Nursing in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in 1931. Peplau graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology in 1943.
  • At Chestnut Lodge, a private psychiatric hospital in Maryland, she researched psychological concerns with Erich Fromm, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Harry Stack Sullivan. Peplau graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University, with masters and doctoral degrees in 1947.

Hildegard Peplau’s Career and Appointments

  • Hildegard Peplau worked as a staff nurse in her hometown and in New York City after graduating from Penn State. Peplau was recommended to become the school nurse at Bennington College in Vermont, where she got a Bachelor’s degree in interpersonal psychology, after working as a nurse for the New York University summer camp. Peplau’s entire career was devoted to expanding Sullivan’s interpersonal theory for use in nursing.
  • From 1943 until 1945, she was a member of the Army Nurse Corps and worked at the 312th Field Station Hospital in England, which housed the American School of Military Psychiatry. She met and collaborated with every major player in psychiatry in the United Kingdom and the United States. Peplau was at the table with many of these same guys after the war as they worked to restructure the US mental health system with the enactment of the National Mental Health Act of 1946.

“Nursing has made great progress from being an occupation to becoming a professional in the 20th. Century. As the 21st. Century approaches, further progress will be reported and recorded in Cyberspace – The Internet being one conduit for that. Linking nurses and their information and knowledge across borders – around the world – will surely advance the profession of nursing much more rapidly in the next century.”
– Hildegard Peplau

  • The William Alanson White Institute in New York City qualified Peplau in psychoanalysis. She created and taught the first classes for graduate psychiatric nursing students at Teachers College in the early 1950s. Peplau was a member of the Rutgers University College of Nursing faculty from 1954 until her retirement in 1974. She was an emeritus professor at the university in question.
  • Peplau’s “Interpersonal Relations Theory” was well-known. She founded the first graduate-level program for clinical specialists in mental nursing at Rutgers University. She was a prolific writer as well as a presenter, speaker, and clinical training workshop facilitator.
  • Peplau argued that nurses should be better educated so that they can provide true therapeutic care to patients rather than the custodial treatment that was common in mental hospitals at the time.
  • She oversaw summer workshops for nurses across the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, largely at state psychiatric facilities. She taught interpersonal ideas, interviewing techniques, and individual, family, and group therapy in her seminars.
  • Peplau worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization and taught in universities in Africa, Latin America, Belgium, and the United States. Peplau served as a consultant to the US Surgeon General, the US Air Force, and the National Institute of Mental Health, and was a strong champion for graduate nursing education and research.

Interpersonal Relations Theory

Hildegard Peplau’s Theory of Interpersonal Relations was published in 1952, and it was influenced by Henry Stack Sullivan, Percival Symonds, Abraham Maslow, and Neal Elgar Miller. Her theory is described in more detail lower down.

  • Hildegard Peplau’s works include the following: Nursing Interpersonal Relations: A Conceptual Framework for Psychodynamic Nursing, Hildegard E. Peplau’s Interpersonal Theory in Nursing Practice: Selected Works, Extracts from two clinical nursing workshops in psychiatric facilities on basic principles of patient counseling, A Look Back in Time: On Semantics (Psychiatric Nursing): An Article from Nursing Forum Perspectives on Psychiatric Care, an article, Is the Psychiatric Nurse Responsible? Who is it that you are writing to? Psychotherapeutic Strategies: An article from Perspectives in Psychiatric Care and For What?: An article from Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

Honors and Awards

  • Peplau received various medals and distinctions for her contributions to nursing, and she was the recipient of 11 honorary degrees. She received honorary doctorates from Alfred, Duke, Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers, and the University of Ulster in Ireland, among others.
  • In 1995, Marquis named her one of the “50 Great Americans” in Who’s Who. She was also named a fellow of the American Academy of Nurses and the national nursing honorary society Sigma Theta Tau.
  • Peplau, known as the “Mother of Psychiatric Nursing,” was a pioneer in the field of psychiatric nursing.
    Peplau is known across the world as the “Mother of Psychiatric Nursing.”
    Peplau was named a “Living Legend” by the American Academy of Nursing in 1996. In 1997, she was awarded the “Christiane Reimann Prize,” nursing’s highest accolade, during the ICN Quadrennial Congress.

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