Biographies of the Superintendents
Miss Isabel McIsaac
3d Superintendent, Army Nurse Corps
© Mary T. Sarnecky
Isabel McIsaac was born in 1858 in Waterloo, Iowa of Scottish parents. McIsaac graduated from Illinois Training School in 1888. Following graduation, she served in a number of administrative positions in the school and became its superintendent in 1905, at which time she conceived and implemented many innovations. McIsaac improved the training program by lengthening it from two to three years. She originated the first teaching demonstrations of various aspects of the nursing arts and was among the first group of educators to grade the students' clinical experiences. She wrote several books and many articles and served in a variety of positions in the professional organizations. In 1898, McIsaac became the president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses, the forerunner of the National League of Nursing Education and the National League for Nursing. In 1904, she assumed the presidency of the American Journal of Nursing Company.
That same year, she left the Illinois Training School to write nursing textbooks, settling with her sister on a fruit farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan.1 After spending six years in this rural atmosphere, McIsaac returned to nursing when she accepted a position as interstate secretary of the national nursing organizations and the American Red Cross Nursing Service. This appointment entailed extensive travel to all four corners of the country. Her responsibilities included helping the constituent units of the national organizations to form and fostering state licensure legislation and enrollment in the Red Cross. During this period, McIsaac gained the confidence and regard of a large segment of the nation's nurses. McIsaac had charisma:
On 1 April 1912, McIsaac became the third superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. She simultaneously accepted the positions of vice-chairman of the Red Cross Nursing Service, secretary of the American Journal of Nursing Company, and vice-president and later acting president of the American Nurses' Association.3 The demands of these various challenging positions exacted a heavy toll on McIsaac's health. After only a year and a half, her physical condition was so debilitated that she had to resign the superintendency. McIssac died in Walter Reed Hospital just twenty days after her resignation on 21 September 1914, a victim of pernicious anemia, a then fatal disease of the blood.4 Until her death, McIsaac worked constantly, rarely taking time off. Jane Delano explained that:
Though her tenure as superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps was short-lived, McIsaac was well-loved and admired for both her warm personality and her professional achievements.