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Peplau, Hildegard E.. Papers of Hildegard E. Peplau, 1923-1984: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: 84-M107
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Peplau, Hildegard E.
Title: Papers of Hildegard E. Peplau, 1923-1984
Date(s): 1923-1984
Quantity: 49.21 linear feet (43 cartons, 5 file boxes, 3 folio+ boxes) plus 3 oversize folders, 92 audiotapes, 3 videotapes, 1 phonograph record)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, speeches, articles, etc., of Hildegard E. Peplau, psychiatric nurse, educator and author.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 84-M107
The papers of Hildegard E. Peplau were given to the Schlesinger Library by Hildegard E. Peplau in June 1984.

Processing Information:

Preliminary inventory: October 1984
By: Jane S. Knowles, Marc Dolan, Cassandra L. Fraser

Access Restrictions:

Access. Folder #52 is closed until July 24, 2024, #509 is closed until January 1, 2045, #525 is closed until January 1, 2047, #526 is closed until January 1, 2048, and #656-675 are closed until January 1, 2037. All other materials are unrestricted. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Hildegard E. Peplau is held by Letitia Anne Peplau. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Preferred Citation:

Hildegard E. Peplau Papers, 1923-1984; item description, dates. 84-M107, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library. See Hildegard E. Peplau Additional papers, 1922-2007 (MC 604). There is some overlap between the two groups of papers.
Audiovisual material has been cataloged separately as T-165 and Vt-41.


Hildegard Elizabeth Peplau, educator and psychiatric nurse, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on September 1, 1909, the daughter of Polish and Russian immigrants Gustav and Ottylie Peplau. Gustav Peplau (1882-1949) worked as a fireman at the Reading Railroad yards for 31 years. Ottylie Peplau (1883-1944) maintained the family's home and occasionally worked outside the home as a housekeeper. Over the course of her life, Peplau maintained especially close ties with her siblings, Clara Julianna (1907-1984), Harold Gustav (1911-1985), Walter Carl (1913-1969), Bertha Ottylie (1919-1999), and her foster brother John David Forster (b.1931).
Educated at local schools, Peplau received a diploma in nursing from Pottstown Hospital Training School in Pennsylvania, in 1931; an A.B. from Bennington College (1943); an A. M. (1947) and Ed.D (1953), both from Teachers' College, Columbia University; and a certificate in Psychoanalysis Applied for Teachers from the William Alanson White Institute (1954). Peplau gave birth to Letitia Anne (Tish) Peplau in 1945 but for personal reasons did not marry Tish's father, Donald M. McIntosh. Eventually, societal pressures influenced her decision to have Tish adopted by her brother Walter. For many years, she presented Tish as her niece so that she could pursue a nursing career without the stigma of being a single parent.
She first worked as a private duty and general staff nurse (1931-1936) and in the summers (1932-1942), for the New York University summer camp. Peplau later became Head Nurse and then Executive Officer of the College Health Services at Bennington College (1936-1942), as well as a part-time student, taking courses with Erich Fromm. She gained clinical psychiatric experience by spending her winter terms in field study at Chestnut Lodge (under the direction of Frieda Fromm-Reichman), where she attended lectures by Harry Stack Sullivan, and at the Psychiatric Department of Bellevue Hospital. Peplau served in the United States Army Nurse Corps (1943-1945) in neuropsychiatric units in England and the United States. After studying under the G.I. Bill at Teachers' College, she was employed there as instructor in nursing education and director of the Advanced Program in Psychiatric Nursing (1948-1953). She was a faculty member of the College of Nursing at Rutgers University (1954-1974), becoming chairman of the Department of Psychiatric Nursing and director of the Graduate Program in 1955, and Professor in Nursing in 1960. She was executive director of the American Nurses' Association (September 1969 - May 1970) while on leave from Rutgers, President of the American Nurses' Association (1970-1972), and 2nd Vice-President (1972-1974). After her retirement in 1974, she was Visiting Professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium (1975-1977) under the auspices of the World Health Organization. She served on the editorial boards of Nursing and Nursing Digest, and was active in the leadership of the New Jersey State Nurses Association (1965-1967, as director), National League for Nursing, World Health Organization, International Council of Nurses (board member, 1973-1977), American Psychiatric Association, National Institute for Mental Health, Veterans' Administration Research Study Group, and the Nursing Education Advisory Committee to the New Jersey Board of Higher Education. Among her numerous honors and awards are an honorary Doctorate of Nursing Science from Boston College (1972), an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Indianapolis (1987), and honorary Doctorate of Science degrees from Alfred University (1970), Duke University (1974), Columbia University (1983), Rutgers University (1985), Ohio State University (1990), Indiana University (1994), and the University of Ulster (1994). In addition she was co-recipient of the International Council of Nurses' Christiane Reimann Prize (1997) and inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame of the American Nurses' Association (1998).
The list of positions and honors tells only part of the story of Peplau's impact on psychiatric nursing. For thirty years she was one of the best known teachers of psychiatric nursing in the U.S. During the summers she conducted workshops in mental hospitals from coast to coast and abroad, training nurses in interviewing techniques while analyzing and explaining psychiatric theory. "I heard more last week about human behavior and how the mind works than I had ever learned," said a graduate of one of Peplau's workshops. As a lecturer at conventions, institutes and meetings, she spoke on trends in nursing, psychiatric nursing practice, and interpersonal relations. She constantly advocated professionalization and graduate training for nurses, and the need for nurses to exercise therapeutic skills and provide more than just custodial care. As a faculty member of Rutgers, Peplau conducted research under a National Institute of Mental Health training grant (1956-1974) in support of the first graduate program in psychiatric nursing for the preparation of clinical specialists. This research resulted in new and sophisticated theories based on psychiatric nursing practices. In particular, she used clinical interview data to clarify the interpersonal nature of nursing practice, to abstract and formulate theoretical concepts, and to test these concepts in practice. In addition to supervising research at Rutgers, she served on many advisory committees to research projects.
Her books are classics in the field of psychiatric nursing: Interpersonal Relations in Nursing (1952), Aspects of Psychiatric Nursing (1957), and Basic Principles of Patient Counseling (1964). Additionally, she has written many articles for professional journals and essays for nursing textbooks and handbooks. She was diagnosed with pseudomyxoma peritonei, a rare form of abdominal cancer, and died following a stroke in 1999.


The collection is arranged in six series:


This collection of personal and professional papers is divided into 6 series:
I. Personal papers, 1v-257v, 1553v. Photographs, biographical and genealogical data, clippings, diaries, correspondence with family, colleagues, and friends.
II. School, college, career, 258-604. Student records, notes, papers from school and university; teaching career: teaching notes, student papers from Teachers' Collge and Rutgers, administrative correspondence, faculty committees.
III. Professional activities, 605-1201. Correspondence, lectures, and conference material, arranged chronologically. Peplau kept all her material re: outside activities (correspondence, talks, workshops, conference material, lectures) in chronological order in binders. Her activities quickly outgrew this filing method. Her files have been kept intact and labeled "HEP's file," with additional materials added in chronological order. The ANA, ICN, US Air Force, and US Veterans' Administration files have been grouped together in Series IV, arranged by name of organization.
IV. Professional associations, 1202-1425. Correspondence and papers arranged by organization.
V. Writings, 1426-1513v. Includes correspondence with publishers and journals.
VI. Memorabilia, awards and honors, 1514-1552.


Container List

Additional Index Terms

Mental health
Pennsylvania--Social life and customs
Psychiatric nursing
Reading (Pa.)--Social life and customs
World War, 1939-1945--Medical care
World War, 1939-1945--Women
American Group Psychotherapy Association
American Nurses' Association
Bellevue Hospital
Bennington College
Chassell, Joseph
Chestnut Lodge Sanatorium
Columbia University. Teachers College
Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980
International Council of Nurses
Menninger Foundation
National League for Nursing
New Jersey State Nurses' Association
Pottstown School of Nursing
Rutgers University. School of Nursing
Smith, Kline and French
United States. Air Force
United States. Veterans Administration
United States. Army Nurse Corps
William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Society
World Health Organization