Throughout history, nurses have provided care and medical help for the sick and suffering. However, some of the great nurses of the past were not always given the respect and appreciation they deserved in their lifetime. Many pioneers in the nursing profession had to fight obstacles of social prejudice and inequality. National Nurses Week is the perfect time to honor these medical pioneers.
Known as the “Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale has often been called the founder of modern nursing. She was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy, to British parents. After moving back to England, she rebelled against social convention by training to become a nurse, rejecting several prominent suitors in pursuit of her dream.
In 1854, she traveled with a small staff of volunteer nurses to Crimea to care for British troops wounded during the Crimean War. Upon seeing the appalling conditions the wounded were in, she began campaigning for medical improvements. It was her habit of checking on the injured every night that earned her the famous nickname. Her campaign helped to bring about prefabricated mobile hospitals, which were later credited with reducing the fatality rate by some 40%.
Clara Barton was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, in 1821. Her most notable contribution was during the Civil War, when she attended to wounded soldiers. During that time, she became known as the “angel of the battlefield” for her never-ending care of Union servicemen. Upon the war’s end in 1865, Clara continued working with the War Department, assisting soldiers and families reunited after years of separation. During this time, she became a much sought-after public speaker. In 1870, she traveled to Europe to work with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War. Seeing the benefits of the relief organization, she campaigned for a similar organization in the United States upon her return. She was instrumental in the foundation of the American Red Cross in 1881, serving as its first president.
One of the least-celebrated pioneers in the nursing field is Mary Mahoney, not because her contribution is less worthy than others, but because of who she was and who she treated. Born in 1845, Mary was the first black woman admitted into the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s nursing program in 1879. The following year, she became the first black woman to complete nurses' training. Eventually, she moved to New York, where she served as supervisor for the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
Born in 1851, Anna Maxwell was an instrumental figure in the founding of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. Anna studied nursing at the Boston City Hospital Training School for Nurses, completing the program in 1880. By 1889, she had risen to the position of superintendent of nursing at Presbyterian Hospital. She began working with the military in 1898, tending to soldiers serving in the Spanish-American War. Recognizing the importance of a full-time nursing component in the military, Anna vigorous sought to create the Army Nurse Corps and grant nurses full military awards earned in combat. Upon her death in 1929, she was interred in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The Future of Nursing
Nightingale, Barton, Mahoney, and Maxwell made great contributions to the field of nursing through hard work and dedication to their patients. Today, nurses continue these traditions to advance the practice and improve the lives of each patient they serve. According to the American Nurses Association, many are even creating and expanding new job roles – such as nurse navigators, care coordinator specialists, and nurse wellness coaches -- to help patients secure resources, obtain seamless comprehensive care, and develop healthy lifestyle practices.
If you wish to continue to develop your role within this constantly evolving and essential field, learn more about how South University can prepare you with the skills and knowledge you need.