In ancient times, there were no professional nurses. People cared for the ill in their homes or brought them to temples for healing. In the early days of Christianity, nursing and care of the sick began to be seen as an act of charity, and women especially were given the task of nursing. Hospitals began to be built adjacent to monasteries and convents, and nuns and brothers cared for the poor and sick who were brought to them.
During the Protestant Reformation, as monasteries and convents were wiped out, so too were the hospitals. While the study of medicine flourished in the universities, the practice of nursing did not. Nursing was not considered a suitable profession, and those nurses who were not in religious orders were seen as illiterate, drunken and immoral. Many were prostitutes.
There were many religious orders that did continue nursing the sick, including the order of St. Vincent DePaul, the Order of the Visitation of Mary, the Sisters of Charity and the Hospitallers of St. John. However, training was limited to traditions passed down from prior generations. The sick, the mentally ill, the dying and the indigent were often seen as a burden on society and were often neglected.