Sadie Heath Cabaniss laid the foundation for professional nursing in Virginia. Cabaniss, who held leadership positions in both state and national nursing organizations, led the movement to secure licensing registration for Virginia nurses in 1903. As superintendent of the Old Dominion Training School, Cabaniss molded Virginia's first generation of professional nurses. Her devotion to the cause of public health led her to develop a nurses settlement in Richmond, Virginia and St. Augustine, Florida. She also established the first rural health visiting nurse service in Virginia for Hanover County.
"It is fortunate indeed for the nursing profession of Virginia that the pioneer in our State was a lady, of rare intelligence, who possessed a character of such outstanding force as to impress itself on the profession not only then but for years to come, who inspired in her pupils a realization of the nobility of their calling, who emphasized the necessity of intelligence and systematic education to insure the best results and who dedicated her own life to laying the foundation for nursing education in our state." - Charles R. Robins, February 15, 1929
Sadie Heath Cabaniss was a pioneer nurse in Virginia. In 1895, Isabel Hampton Robb, Superintendent of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, referred Cabaniss to the Old Dominion Hospital to be supervisor of the operating room. Her skills as an organizer were soon recognized and she was asked to develop a training school for nurses. This school was the first in Virginia that followed the Nightingale plan. Cabaniss recognized the need for graduates to have evidence of competence and established a plan where graduates would receive certificates attesting to their schooling. Cabaniss's school continues to this day as the School of Nursing of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Cabaniss provided leadership to the existing training schools in Virginia in the formation of Alumnae Associations and, at her call, these associations came together in 1901 to organize the Virginia State Association of Nurses (VSAN), later the Virginia Nurses Association (VNA). She served as first President of the VSAN. The first undertaking of this group was to obtain a registration law to regulate the practice of nursing in the Commonwealth. Working with her cousin Charles Lassiter, a member of the Virginia General Assembly, she helped to draft the proposed law introduced and enacted in 1903. Cabaniss was one of the original five members appointed to the Virginia State Board of Examiners of Nurses and served as its president through her two terms on the Board.
Cabaniss was Second Vice President of the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, later the American Nurses Association.
Cabaniss left the Old Dominion Hospital to found the Nurses Settlement of Richmond, Virginia. From this agency, nurses provided care for patients in their homes and Cabaniss aided in the development of dispensaries for patients with tuberculosis who could not be admitted to local hospitals. She extended her concerns about public health by establishing the first rural visiting nursing service in Virginia in Hanover County, working in public health in North Carolina, Georgia and establishing a nurses settlement in St. Augustine, Florida. Her last service was as a public health nurse in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
Two memorials at the University of Virginia honor Sadie Heath Cabaniss. One is the Cabaniss Chair of Nursing established by funds in the amount of $50,000 raised in the 1920s by the members of the Graduate Nurses Association of Virginia. The second was the establishment of the Cabaniss Memorial School of Nursing Education. At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the Cabaniss Society, named for Sadie Heath Cabaniss, recognizes the contributions of alumni and the community to the School. Two buildings on the Medical College of Virginia Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University have been named for Cabaniss. The first dormitory on the campus was built in 1928 and named Cabaniss Hall to honor her. Today this building is the Nursing Education Building. In 1967, a residence hall for women was opened and the Cabaniss Hall name was transferred to this building. In 2000, the Virginia Nurses Association recognized Cabaniss as one of fifty-one Pioneer Nurses in Virginia.
Sadie Health Cabaniss was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame on 1 July 2002 at the ANA Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.