Cover photo for Carolyn Dawson's Obituary
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1932 Carolyn 2022

Carolyn Dawson

December 6, 1932 — October 29, 2022


Dawson, Carolyn, PhD, RN

Madison - Carolyn Dawson, age 89, of Madison, passed away on October 29, 2022.  She was born on December 6, 1932, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to William R. and Clara M. Dawson (nee Ulrich).

Carolyn had a distinguished career in clinical nursing, nursing education and research.  She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, a master’s degree in maternal-child health from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an MS and PhD in clinical psychology from the Graduate Faculties of Columbia University.  As part of her doctoral education she completed an internship in clinical psychology at the University of Oregon Medical School.  She was selected to become a member of Phi Beta Kappa as a student at Bates College.  As a doctoral student she was inducted into the scientific research society Sigma Xi.   Her clinical experiences were in pediatric nursing and psychiatric nursing across the lifespan.

Carolyn joined the faculty of the School of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973 and over the next 25 years provided significant leadership in psychiatric nursing and doctoral nursing education.  For over 10 years she was the project director of a graduate training grant in psychiatric nursing funded by the National Institute of Mental Health which provided support for curriculum and graduate fellowships to nurses to become advanced practice nurses in psychiatric mental health nursing.  She was a co-founder of the Society for Education and Research in Psychiatric Nursing (SERPN) which eventually became an organization within the American Nurses Association.  She was chair of the School of Nursing doctoral steering committee, the faculty committee that developed and implemented the joint PhD program in nursing and psychology.  Later she served as the director of the PhD program in nursing.

As a researcher she studied the factors that influence patient self-disclosure.  She developed an instrument to measure patient self-disclosure in primary care centers.  The instrument was used widely nationally and internationally.  She will be remembered as an especially gifted teacher and advisor of graduate students inspiring them through course work and individual mentorship to discover and further the intellectual and theoretical focus of nursing as well as its practice.

In her life outside academia she was an avid reader of mysteries and non-fiction, enjoyed opera and other classical music, followed sports and current events (especially politics), and looked forward to annual vacations in Door County.  In her retirement she took golf lessons and enjoyed playing the game year-round including winter stays in Arizona.

Carolyn is survived by her nephew Robert T. Conley of Maine, niece Jean Carolyn Conley (Mark W. Kontos) of Virginia and grandniece Stephanie Christina Smith (fiancé David B. Daniel) of Arizona.  She was preceded in death by her parents, twin sister Christina Conley, brother Robert, and nephew David E. Conley.

Services will be held at 11:00 AM on Tuesday, December 6 at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Ave., Madison.  Following the services there will be a gathering of family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Carolyn’s memory may be made to organizations that work directly to improve the health and well-being of children and their families.

Please share your memories at

Cress Center

6021 University Ave. Madison

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Carolyn Dawson, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Starts at 11:00am (Central time)

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Gathering of Family and Friends

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

11:45am - 2:00pm (Central time)

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