Josephine P. Prescott, 86, director of the D.C. Bureau of Public Health Nursing for 25 years, died Saturday at the Havenwood Congregational Center in Concord, N.H., after a long illness.

Born in Laconia, N.H., Mrs. Prescott graduated from Wellesley College in 1912 and in the early 1920s received a diploma in nursing from Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital and a master's degree in nursing from Columbia University.

From 1923 to 1928, she worked as a supervisor for the Visiting Nurse Service of the Henry Street settlement house in New York City. For the next years Mrs. Prescott served as special assistant to the director of the Bureau of Public Health Department. She also served as a consultant at Bellevue Hospital.

After a year as a nursing instructor at Columbia University's Teachers College, Mrs. Prescott moved to Washington in 1935 and became head of the newly established nursing bureau in the city's Department of Health. She retired from that position in 1960.

In her quarter century as chief of the Public Health Nursing Bureau, Mrs. Prescott organized a set of scattered agencies into a nationally recognized department that in 1960 held 145 professional nurses and a clerical staff of 25.

She worked through her job to raise the standards of nursing homes and homes for the aged and of practical nursing care.

"Improved public health," Mrs. Prescott said in a 1939 interview, "is not an end in itself but a very important means for bringing greater happiness to the individual and affording him greater opportunity to serve his community wisely and well."

Mrs. Prescott, who moved from Washington to Meredith, N.H., three years ago, was a life member of the D.C. League of Nursing, an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Nursing of Great Britain, and a member of the National League of Nursing, the American Nurses Association, the National Public Health Nursing Association, the American Association of University Women, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America, the Zonta International Club of America and the Wellesley Club of Washington.

She also spent much of her spare time painting and drawing, often attending classes at the Corcoran Art Gallery's School of Art.

Surviving is her sister, Anna L. Pitman of Wilmington, Delaware.