The evolution of nursing wouldn't have been possible without the extraordinary women and men who led the early days of this profession and planted the seeds of modern nursing. In honor of the upcoming National Nurses Week (May 6-12, 2013), here we pay tribute to some of the most famous nurses in history.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Florence Nightingale is probably the most well known nurse of all time. Born into a wealthy British family, she rejected a married life to study and serve others around the world. But it was in the Crimean War where her actions laid the foundations for professional nursing. Confronted with unsanitary conditions and poor care for wounded British soldiers, she made every effort to improve hospital hygiene and reduce the incidence of infections. Her actions reduced the death rate from 42% to 2%, according to the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography (1911). She was also named “The Lady with the Lamp” due to her nightly rounds caring for the wounded. Her notes were published and widely spread, and, with the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, her work was immortalized. In fact, National Nurses Week is celebrated annually from May 6 to 12, because May 12 is Florence Nightingale's birthday.
Clarissa Barton (1821-1912)
Clarissa Barton was an educator and independent nurse who was born in Massachusetts, but again, it was a war – this time the American Civil War – that made her famous. Known as the “angel of the battlefield,” she not only took care of wounded soldiers, but also fought to increase medical supplies in the camp. Later, after visiting Europe and working with the International Red Cross, she returned to America and founded the American Red Cross Society in 1881, which she lead until 1904.
Linda Richards (1841-1930)
Linda Richards was America’s first trained nurse, having successfully completed training at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She later traveled to England for additional training, where she met Miss Nightingale herself. Linda created a popular system for keeping patients’ medical records, and she also established several well-known nursing schools throughout the U.S. as well as the first training program for nurses in Japan.
Mary Mahoney (1845-1926)
Mary Mahoney, born in Massachusetts, was the first black women to complete nurse’s training in 1879, which she carried out at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Later on, she became one of the first black members of what is now the American Nurses Association. Besides being a pioneering nurse, she was also a fervid activist and was one of the first women to register to vote in Boston after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.