This paper describes the foundations of community nursing in England, Ireland and New South Wales. It is guided by Foucault's work on power, discourse and knowledge, and argues that the common discourse of poverty coupled with the influence of socially advantaged women in the nineteenth century was the impetus for the development of community nursing in England, Ireland and New South Wales. Throughout the nineteenth century in Great Britain, economic and industrial development, coupled with an unprecedented growth in the population (particularly among the poor) inspired socially advantaged women to extend traditional gender-specific roles to address the needs of the poor. Protestant women in England advanced professional nursing as a career for women and in Ireland and New South Wales; Catholic women pioneered professional nursing, targeting the poor as the focus of their practice. These women used prevailing social conditions to enhance their life options within the limits prescribed by social norms.