Agnes Karll was born 25th March 1868, the third child of a family of estate owners in Embsen in the Lüneburg Heath. At 14, she began training as a teacher in Schwerin and, from 1884, also started working in this profession. She met the feminist Johanna Willborn, who gave her a new perspective on life. Karll was not happy as a teacher and, in 1887, began to train as a nurse at the ‚Clementinenhaus‘ in Hanover, which belonged to the Red Cross. Here, she found the field of work that would define the rest of her life.
Agnes Karll’s training was progressing to a high standard, but Karll quickly realised that nurses were badly off and professionally unorganized. Nursing was seen as an act of charity, which should be carried out for free. The working hours were long – over 20 hours a day – there were no breaks, no holidays, and nurses had a poor diet. The training was unregulated and there was no social insurance. As a result, Agnes Karll turned to private nursing, moved to Berlin, and eventually accompanied someone to the USA, where she came to know and appreciate American nursing conditions. However, the challenges of private nursing pushed her strength to the limit.
In 1902, Agnes Karll, together with a group of other feminists, decided to become politically active and found a professional association for nurses. A year later, the time had come: the “Berufsorganisation der Krankenpflegerinnen Deutschlands” (B.O.K.D) – ‘Professional Association of German Nurses’ – was born. Another year later in July 1903, England, the USA, and Germany founded the International Council of Nurses (ICN) in Berlin, which Agnes Karll joined along with her 300-strong B.O.K.D. In 1906, the first B.O.K.D. magazine, Unterm Lazaruskreuz, came out, and the first statutory nurse training began in Prussia. Then, in 1909, Agnes Karll became president of the ICN.
Agnes Karll died of cancer on 12th February 1927, aged 59. The B.O.K.D., which had temporarily been banned by the Nazis, continued to be influential after the war and remains influential to this day through the DBfK (German Nursing Association). The same is true of Karll’s achievements: nursing has become a respected profession, nurses are paid a salary, have regulated working hours, and have social insurance. The process of professionalising nursing, which Karll helped to set in motion, continues to this day.
Agnes Karll gave her name to the Institute for Nursing Research in Berlin (AKI), to clinics (e.g. in Bad Schwartau and Laatzen) and nursing schools. There are also streets and nursing homes named after her. Furthermore, the DBfk has awarded the ‘Agnes Karll Prize’ several times.