Elizabeth Sterling Soule was the daughter of a Boston physician who grew up observing the disabling effects of poor living and working conditions on health. After graduating from nursing school, she was trained in public health nursing and became the first visiting nurse in Everett, Massachusetts. In 1912, when she moved to Seattle as a new bride, Soule was the only nurse in the state with field training. Two years later, she organized the Washington State Public Health Nursing Association to deal more effectively with epidemic outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis. Her contributions to public health led to later appointments as the first state supervisor of nurses for the Washington TB Association and the Red Cross.
Washington had been among the first states to grant women suffrage in 1910 and, by 1913, women's charitable organizations were demanding more opportunities for the larger number of girls completing high school. At the time, nurses were educated in apprenticeship programs in area hospitals. Graduates of these programs were often the only source of health care in rural areas.
By 1918, public health in Washington was in crisis. A worldwide flu epidemic had taken more American lives than the war and infirmaries had been set up in Clark Hall and Lewis Hall at the University of Washington. When the Washington TB Association asked the UW to offer public health courses for registered nurses, the first public health education course in the Northwest that included fieldwork began, with Soule directing the fieldwork. Soule went on to organize a continuing education conference for county nurses at the UW and in 1920, when the state health department was founded, she was asked to be the first state supervisor of public health nursing. The following year UW President Henry Suzzallo asked her to bring her organizational talents to a new Department of Nursing, and under her direction it became one of the first in the country accredited in public health nursing.
The same year that Bertha Landes became the nation's first woman mayor, Soule received the first of two degrees from the UW and decided to dedicate herself to nursing education rather than public health nursing. It is fortunate for Washington that she did. Under her guidance, local hospitals were encouraged to send their diploma school students to the UW for additional coursework. She also instituted a UW training program for staff at the state's mental health hospitals and tuberculosis sanitarium, greatly improving patient care. A county public health clinic in Ballard was created with the cooperation of county officials for health care and student education. Most notably, Soule worked closely with King County council members to provide collegiate nursing education at the new Harborview Hospital, an arrangement that had only been done once before in the country, at Yale University. The 4-year "integrated" nursing major which she developed was the first of its kind at a state university and became the national standard for nursing education.
When Soule retired in 1950, Time magazine called her the "Mother of Nursing" in the Pacific Northwest. The School of Nursing that she founded has been ranked No.1 in the nation since 1984, when the first national survey of nursing schools was conducted. Soule was inducted into the National Nursing Hall of Fame and the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame posthumously in 1986.