Sunday, December 30, 2012

Madeleine Leininger - "A Great Woman with a Great Story"

A Great Woman … A Great Story

By Jerry Johnson and the Sutton Historical Society

“A Great Woman … A Great Story” is an appropriate and fitting tribute to perhaps Sutton’s most famous daughter and is presented in a three and a half minute video on youtube at: - a tribute to Dr. Madeleine Leininger.

Dr. Madeleine Leininger of Sutton

Dr. Leininger has been recognized locally a number of times in articles and tributes but the story of her career does not grow old.

“He made a difference in the world.” Have you ever heard that said about an individual? Did that person really make a difference? In the world?

We’d all like to think that we made some difference during our brief stay on the planet and on certain scales, we all do. But not many of us truly do something that alters the world for untold thousands and thousands of people. We have at least one Suttonite who did just that.

The Sutton High class of ’42 was a large class for our town, fifty-eight graduates in the early months of a world war. The boys faced an immediate responsibility to “make a difference” on the stages of the Pacific Theater and the European Theater of WWII. One grad made the ultimate sacrifice in a tank battle on the western front near the borders between Germany, France and Switzerland.

Many scattered across the country making their marks from coast to coast. One fellow went on to become an executive at Temple University. Others stayed close to their roots becoming standout citizens of our local community. But the ‘42 grad of this story did truly make an indelible mark on the world.

Madeleine Leininger was born July 13, 1925 to George and Irene Leininger on the farm south of Sutton though the video mentioned above gives her birth as 1920. After graduation from Sutton High she was in the U. S. Army Nursing Corps while pursuing a basic nursing program. She received her nursing diploma from St. Anthony’s School of Nursing in Denver, a B. S. from St.Scholastica (Benedictine College) in Atchinson, Kansas, her M. S. psychiatric and mental health nursing from Catholic University in D. C. and a Ph.D. in cultural and social anthropology from the University of Washington. She was the first person in a graduate nursing program to receive a Ph.D. – quite a distinction. Her official certifications read: PhD, LHD, DS, CTN, RN, FAAN, FRCNA – I’ll not elaborate.

Dr. Leininger’s broad academic background led her to blend her two fields study, nursing and anthropology to create a new discipline, transcultural nursing.

She was working in a child guidance home in the 1950’s when she realized that behavior patterns in children appeared to have a cultural basis. She spent three years in Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea on a field research project with the Gatsup people. There she came to realize that nurses and other health care personnel were handicapped in their attempts to provide health care if they did not understand the culture and history of health care of their patients.
Dr. Leininger visited and studied more than a dozen cultures world-wide.

Madeleine studied a number of diverse societies while formulating her then-radical ideas about the nature of nursing. Those ideas coalesced into her Theory of Transcultural Nursing defining an entirely new professional sector of nursing and health care practice.

Dr. Leininger was able to instill her ideas into formal educational programs as she attained leadership positions in the field at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Colorado and as Dean, Professor of Nursing and Lecturer of Anthropology at the University of Washington. It was under her leadership that the University of Washington was recognized in 1973 as the outstanding public institution of nursing in the country. Her resume must have been suitable for framing.

Her academic career continued at the University of Utah where her collection of titles included Director of the Doctoral and Transcultural Nursing Program.

The theory and principles of transcultural nursing were quickly ingrained into nurses training throughout the world as the list of her professional writings grew to include over 200 articles and book chapters, more than 25 of her own books and edited works, 850 public lectures and numerous audio and video presentations. She managed to work in stints as visiting professor and scholar at about 70 universities around the world – her various biographies seem unable to keep up with and agree on the “gee-whiz” statistics of Dr. Leininger’s career.
Dr. Leininger with a group of Gadsup children on a return trip
to Papua New Guinea probably in 1990.

She settled down, as best she could in 1981 at Wayne State University in Detroit where she accumulated another list of academic and professional titles. She retired as professor emeritus from Wayne State University in 1995.

Every formal field of study needs its definitive publication for exchange of ideas and to establish standards and methods. Dr. Leininger accommodated with the founding of the Journal of Transcultural Nursing in 1989 and served as its editor until 1995. The publication recognized their Foundress shortly after her death by reprinting (unfortunately, as a single paragraph!) an article from 2009:

The Madeleine Leininger Collection constitutes 15.5 linear feet of her papers in the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State. The thirty-three pages of the “Finding Aid” of the collection are at: and is worth your time to get a feel for the important work of this Sutton girl. Prepare to be overwhelmed. Other collections of her works are at Florida Atlantic University, Boston University and Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan.

I’ve provided a few of the dozens of internet links concerning Dr. Leininger. I’m pretty sure no other Suttonite generated as much academic and professional material. But I must include two more of those links. A detailed and lengthy account of her work is at: and an entertaining youtube video at:
is rather clever, if a bit hokey with a skit apparently done by enthusiastic nursing students including an appearance by Madeleine as Mary Poppins. Yes, really.

Did growing up in Sutton have any unique or direct influences that may have led to Dr. Leininger’s success? We probably shouldn’t make such a claim without specific justification. But there is a hint in the 1940 census of where an important influence may have come from. Madeleine was 14 at the time of that census. Her sister Eulalia was 17 and listed as a “public school teacher.” School documents for that fall list Eulalia as a second-year teacher in District #38, the Rock School six a half miles south of Sutton.

We can imagine how a sister but three years older and already teaching school might have had an impact on Madeleine. Leininger family stories confirm Eulalia’s influence including her encouragement and help in sending Madeleine off to begin her education and the career that became “A Great Story about A Great Woman”.

Dr. Madeleine Leininger died on August 10, 2012 and is buried in Sutton’s Calvary Cemetery.

This article first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For information about this publication see   or contact or write to Mustang, Inc., 510 West Cedar, Sutton, NE 68979  or call 402-984-4203.

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