Martha Elizabeth Rogers (May 12, 1914 – March 13, 1994) was an American nurse, researcher, theorist, and author widely known for developing the Science of Unitary Human Beings and for her landmark book, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing.
She believes that a patient can never be separated from his or her environment when addressing health and treatment. Her knowledge about the coexistence of the human and his or her environment contributed a lot in the process of change toward better health.
Rogers was born on May 12, 1914; sharing a birthday with Florence Nightingale. She was the eldest of four children of Bruce Taylor Rogers and Lucy Mulholland Keener Rogers.
She had a thirst for knowledge at an early age. She found Kindergarten to be “terribly exciting” and had a love and passion for books that was fostered by her parents. Her father introduced her to the public library at the age of 3 where she loved story time. She liked to go off by herself with a book. And by the fourth grade, she had read every book in her school library. She used to go to the public library before I was 6 even before she could read. She was well acquainted with the public library and started reading eight books at a time. Her father used to be bothered if she was just skimming but he later on discovered that the young Rogers was learning fast.
In fact, Rogers already knew the Greek alphabet by age 10. By the sixth grade, she already finished reading all 20 volumes of The Child’s Book of Knowledge and was into the Encyclopedia Britannica.
She also loved to read various topics like anthropology, archaeology, cosmology, ethnography, astronomy, ethics, psychology, eastern philosophy, and aesthetics. By her senior year she had completed all the high school math courses and was taking a college level algebra course where she was the only female in the class.
Initially, Rogers wanted to do something that would, hopefully contribute to social welfare like law and medicine. However, she only
studied medicine for a couple of years because women in medicine were not particularly desirable during her time. Instead, Rogers along with her friend entered a local hospital that had a school of nursing. But just like Nightingale, her parents weren’t really any happier over that decision than they had between over medicine.
She then transferred to Knoxville General Hospital’s nursing program and was one of 25 students in her class. She described her training as at times as being miserable because the training was like the “Army, pre-Nightingale.” She even spent a week at home, thinking of not returning to school but eventually enjoyed working with people and patients.
Rogers received her nursing diploma from the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing in 1936, then earned her Public Health Nursing degree from George Peabody College in Tennessee in 1937. She sold her car to pay for tuition and entered a Masters degree program full-time.
Her Master’s degree was from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1945, and her Doctorate in Nursing was given to her from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1954. She completed her studies in 1954 and the title of her dissertation was “The association of maternal and fetal factors with the development of behavior problems among elementary school children.”
Career and Appointments
After Rogers graduated from George Peabody College in Tennessee in 1937, she worked for the Children’s Fund of Michigan for two years as public health nurse.
In 1940, she accepted a position in Hartford, CT at the Visiting Nurse Association. She worked at the Association for five years, first as an Assistant Supervisor, then as the Assistant Education Director, and lastly as the acting Director of Education. At the same time she was completing her coursework at Teacher’s College and completed her degree requirements (Master of Arts) in 1945.
After completing her degree in 1945, she sent out a number of job inquiry letters, considered staying in Hartford, but settled on a position as the Executive Director at the Visiting Nurse Service in Phoenix, Arizona. She believed she may have been the first nurse in Arizona with a masters degree and for 1945 to 1951, she built up the Visiting Nursing Service in Phoenix.
While a doctoral student, she did spend a year as a visiting lecturer at a Catholic University in Washington, DC.
Rogers was then appointed Professor and Head of the Division of Nursing at New York University right after graduating from Hopkins. She was encouraged to accept the position by Ruth Freeman. When Rogers arrived at NYU, Vera Fry was the previous Division Head and Joan Hoexter stated that all of the nursing faculty left except her. She was also a Fellow for the American Academy of Nursing.
Rogers officially retired as Professor and Head of the Division of Nursing in 1975 after 21 years of service. Following her retirement, she continued to teach at NYU, was a frequent presenter at scientific conferences throughout the world, and consistently worked to refine her conceptual system.
Rogers was also actively involved in professional nursing organizations and associations concerned with education and scholarship. In 1979, she became Professor Emerita and continued to have an active role in the development of nursing and the Science of Unitary Human Beings.
Main Article: Martha E. Rogers’ Theory of Unitary Human Beings
The Science of Unitary Human Beings
Rogers’ theory is known as the Science of Unitary Human Beings (SUHB). The theory views nursing as both a science and an art as it provides a way to view the unitary human being, who is integral with the universe. The unitary human being and his or her environment are one. Nursing focuses on people and the manifestations that emerge from the mutual human-environmental field process.
SUHB contains two dimensions: the science of nursing, which is the knowledge specific to the field of nursing that comes from scientific research; and the art of nursing, which involves using the science of nursing creatively to help better the life of the patient.
Her model addresses the importance of the environment as an integral part of the patient, and uses that knowledge to help nurses blend the science and art of nursing to ensure patients have a smooth recovery and can get back to the best health possible.
There are eight concepts in Rogers’ nursing theory: energy field, openness, pattern, pan-dimensionality, homeodynamic principles, resonance, helicy, and integrality.
Rogers’ development of the said theory has become an influential nursing theory in the United States. When first introduced, it was considered profound, and was too ambitious, but now is simply thought to be ahead of its time. Her conceptual framework has greatly influenced all aspects of nursing by offering an alternative to traditional approaches of nursing.
Rogers wrote three books that enriched the learning experience and influenced the direction of nursing research for countless students: Educational Revolution in Nursing (1961), Reveille in Nursing (1964).
In about 1963 Rogers edited a journal called Nursing Science. It was during that time that Rogers was beginning to formulate ideas about the publication of her third book, An Introduction to the Theoretical Basis of Nursing (1970), the last of which introduced the four Rogerian Principles of Homeodynamics.
Her publications include: Theoretical Basis of Nursing (1970), Nursing Science and Art: A Prospective (1988), Nursing: Science of Unitary, Irreducible, Human Beings Update (1990), and Vision of Space Based Nursing (1990).
Awards and Honors
Rogers was honored with numerous awards and citations for her sustained contributions to nursing and science. In 1996, she was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association’s Hall of Fame.
Rogers died on March 13, 1994 and was buried in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has a memorial placed in the sidewalk near her childhood home in Knoxville.
- Martha E. Rogers’ Theory of Unitary Human Beings
- Hektor LM (1989) Martha E Rogers: A Life History. Nursing Science Quarterly 2; 2, 63-73.
- Safier, G. (1977). Contemporary American leaders in nursing: An oral history. New York: McGraw Hill.
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