Linnea E. Henderson, EdD, is recognized as the founding dean of the School of Nursing at Kent State University, which was renamed as the College of Nursing in 1999. She served at Kent State from 1967 to 1984.  

Henderson received a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the Idaho-based Northwest Nazarene College (now Northwest Nazarene University) in 1941. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts from Olivet College, a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago and a Doctor of Education from Columbia University.  

As most nurses were taught in a hospital setting at that time, Henderson first began her career at the Grace Hospital School of Nursing in Detroit, where she was a faculty member. In 1955, she joined the faculty at the North Carolina School of Nursing and began an illustrious career in higher education. 

Henderson became an associate professor of nursing at the University of Cincinnati and then assistant dean of the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve University) before coming to Kent State in 1967 as the first female director of the nursing program. The Board of Trustees of Kent State University had just received approval to develop the nursing program, and three years later, when the School of Nursing was established in 1970, Henderson was named dean. 

“As the American health care system has become increasingly more complex, it has become more and more important for nurses to have baccalaureate degrees,” notes Henderson in a Record-Courier article dated Sept. 5, 1979. “A growing number of nurses are [also] working toward master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.” 

During her tenure, she expanded the program significantly, increasing faculty from four to 60 and graduating more than 1,700 students with bachelor’s degrees. Henderson also introduced a master’s program in 1977; 77 students had graduated from it by the time of her death seven years later. It was the fourth of its kind in Ohio and only the second in Northeast Ohio. 

The Ohio Senate recognized Henderson in a 1984 resolution stating, “as a result of her strong belief in baccalaureate nursing education and her unwavering commitment to excellence, the school and its graduate have become recognized and accepted throughout the nation.”

As the program grew, so did the needs of its faculty and students. From 1967-1978, they shuffled from Lowry Hall to the old Health Center to Franklin Hall. Finally, in 1978, they moved into a newly constructed facility built specifically for the needs of the School of Nursing. Henderson played a large role in the design of the $3 million building to ensure that it would accommodate the current and future needs of the program.   

She was instrumental in establishing an honor society for nursing students and also began an annual lecture series that attracted national nursing leaders to the campus. The series was later renamed the Linnea Henderson Lecture Series. 

Henderson’s visionary leadership was recognized even during her time as dean because of her local, state and national work in nursing education. She was planning to retire in the summer of 1984, and was to receive the President’s Medal, which recognizes faculty and staff who have made contributions to the advancement of Kent State through extraordinary service, at a reception in March, but she was unable to attend because of her health. A week before her death, President Michael Schwartz presented her with the medal in the hospital.

“Your vision, dedication and persistence have been the guiding force in the establishment of the School of Nursing.”

The citation for the medal included these statements: “Beloved teacher, insightful leader, and respected colleague are the roles by which you are known to students, members of the nursing profession and to those who have had the distinct honor to work with you as faculty members and fellow administrators…You have worked persistently to develop one of the strongest baccalaureate nursing programs…Your vision, dedication and persistence have been the guiding force in the establishment of the School of Nursing.” 

Henderson died on April 25, 1984, at Suburban Community Hospital in an East Cleveland suburb, where she had been hospitalized for several weeks. She was 65 and had no immediate family. “She devoted almost all of her time to the university,” said Irene Bosco, assistant dean at the School of Nursing at the time. “She didn’t even like to take her vacations.” Henderson was buried at Standing Rock Cemetery.

An article about Henderson on the College of Nursing’s website includes this remembrance by former Dean Dr. Davina Gosness (1989-2004), who served as a faculty member under Henderson: “Dean Henderson had very high standards but seldom appeared authoritarian in manner. She had a unique way of keeping her finger on the pulse of things happening within the college. Every Monday morning a homemade sheet cake appeared in the faculty kitchenette and everyone knew she had made it. At the start of nearly every day, we could find her sitting casually in the workroom reading the morning paper, greeting faculty as we stopped in for our mail. Dean Henderson would also periodically make rounds, and if a faculty’s office door were open, she would stop in for a chat.” 

Henderson Hall, built to Dean Henderson’s design specifications, was renamed and dedicated to Linnea E. Henderson in 1985. The three-story building, which still houses the College of Nursing, is located on the southeastern side of campus. It is situated across from the Mathematical Sciences building and near the Liquid Crystals Materials Science building. The 37,000-square foot structure has a central atrium with a skylight at the top. Offices and other facilities are built around the atrium.

Daily Kent Stater, 15 April 1969
Record-Courier, 5 September 1979 
Daily Kent Stater, 13 March 1984
Daily Kent Stater, 26 April 1984
Daily Kent Stater, 7 December 1984
“Remembering Founding Dean Linnea E. Henderson” by Mariah Gibbons, Mar. 22, 2018…   

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