May 8, 2023

Famous Nurses You Should Know

By B&SC Blog Team

Famous Nurses You Should Know

As the most prominent and visible healthcare profession, nursing has an indelible impact on every person you meet. American nurses, in particular, can be a source of support to patients navigating a healthcare field that’s fraught with challenges and difficult to understand. Nurses are some of our nation’s hardest-working and most inspiring professionals – and no amount of praise can truly capture the benefits they bring to society as a whole.

Famous Nurses in History

The healthcare industry is evolving rapidly, with new research and technology promising to take patient care to the next level. There’s a lot to love about modern nursing, but it’s important for current and aspiring nurses to understand the profession’s history – and what, exactly, has made nursing such a noble and impactful pursuit from the very beginning.

To that end, we’ve highlighted twenty of the most recognizable and impactful figures in nursing. While millions of nurses deserve praise for the incredible work they do daily, the following nursing professionals have had an outsized impact on the healthcare industry and society as a whole.

1.Florence Nightingale

No list of famous nurses is complete without the amazing Florence Nightingale. This remarkable woman revolutionized the healthcare industry by highlighting – and taking steps to correct – the devastating impact of unsanitary conditions in the medical sector. She’s also well known for her heroic efforts during the Crimean War, when she assembled a team of nurses to tend to soldiers suffering horrific illnesses and injuries. This tireless devotion earned her the nickname “the Lady with the Lamp.”

After the war, Nightingale continued to enact lifesaving initiatives to improve sanitation, data collection, and nurse training. Her reputation as a statistician and nurse educator is just as impressive as her medical reputation. She became something of a celebrity, even receiving a jeweled brooch from Queen Victoria.

2.Walt Whitman

Famed writer and poet Walt Whitman may be best remembered for his seminal work Leaves of Grass, but he also enjoyed success as a nurse. Shocked by the suffering he witnessed at a battlefield hospital, Whitman decided to volunteer as a nurse. His experience is best conveyed in his somber poem “The Wound Dresser.” Although his use of free verse was unusual for the time, the emotions in this piece remain relevant to modern nurses.

3.Clara Barton

One of the most famous and admired women in American history, Clara Barton is best known for founding the American Red Cross. She earned the nickname “the Angel of the Battlefield” based on her heroic activities during wartime: While distributing much-needed supplies and tending to the wounded, she continually put herself in harm’s way.

After the war, Barton ran the Office of Missing Soldiers in hopes of providing answers to the loved ones of missing soldiers. She also traveled extensively while delivering lectures about her unique experiences. While visiting Switzerland, Barton discovered the efforts of the global Red Cross network and committed herself to launching a similar movement in the US.

4.Dorothea Dix

As a fierce advocate for patients suffering from mental health illnesses, Dorothea Dix played a critical role in the asylum movement of the 1800s. Her efforts were primarily motivated by her observation of prison inmates, many of whom were mentally ill and subjected to inhumane conditions. She documented these horrible conditions at various public and private venues, eventually achieving much-needed funding for dozens of hospitals.

Dix also made her mark as a highly esteemed nurse leader. During the Civil War, she served as the Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army. While she spearheaded some controversial policies during that time (such as only hiring nurses between the ages of 35 and 50), she brought increased credibility to the field by maintaining exceedingly high standards.

5.Mary Eliza Mahoney

As the first African American woman to serve as a nurse in the US (and the first African American student to graduate from an American nursing school), Mary Eliza Mahoney broke all kinds of barriers with her inspiring career. Her passion for nursing emerged at a young age, and Mahoney completed a highly rigorous and selective nursing program, partly because she had previously committed so much time to working at training hospitals as a cook and maid.

Upon entering the field, Mahoney primarily worked with wealthy families, frequently treating newborns and their mothers. Beyond providing exceptional care, her primary goal was to combat the perception of black nurses as housekeepers.

Mahoney’s quest for racial justice in an often discriminatory field extended to founding the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) as an alternative to the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada, which was the predecessor to what we now know as the American Nurses Association (ANA).

The NACGN and ANA eventually merged, but the new organization continues to bestow the Mary Mahoney Award, which had been established by the NACGN a decade after Mahoney passed away. This award recognizes nurses who promote equal opportunities for nurses from minority populations.

6.Mary Seacole

One of the world’s most famous black nurses, Mary Seacole first captured attention while caring for patients during cholera and yellow fever outbreaks in Kingston, Jamaica, and Cruces, Panama. Soon after, she made her mark while providing compassionate care for wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Initially, Seacole was refused when she asked to be sent to Crimea as an army nurse, so she funded her own journey and established a hotel for recovering soldiers. At the time, Seacole was just as well known as Florence Nightingale.

7.Linda Richards

While many of the historic nurses highlighted above provided exceptional care, they often lacked formal training. Not so with Linda Richards, who was America’s first professionally trained nurse. Her career was inspired by her experience caring for ailing family members, but Richards was dismayed to discover in her early months of nursing that she was basically treated as a maid. To that end, Richards enrolled in a revolutionary nurse training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston.

After completing this rigorous program, Richards worked at the Bellevue Hospital Training School in New York City. There, she established an effective system for creating and maintaining patient records. Richards later traveled abroad to continue her training, eventually returning with the hope of improving training schools throughout the US. Her accomplishments also include establishing a training program in Japan and serving as president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools.

8.Virginia Avenel Henderson

Often referred to as “the First Lady of Nursing,” Virginia Henderson achieved notoriety by developing a great definition of a field that can be difficult to comprehend fully. She explained that “the unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual – sick or well – in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will, or knowledge.”

This concept is often referred to as Henderson’s Model and it posits that nursing stands apart from many medical practices – and that nurses are responsible for far more than merely following physicians’ orders. Henderson’s Model also emphasizes the role of patient self-determination.

9.Moyra Allen

Canadian nurse Moyra Allen strongly believed that patients and their family members should be empowered to advocate for themselves. To that end, she was instrumental in developing the McGill Model of Nursing. This model posits that nursing should focus on promoting health (as opposed to simply treating illnesses), with patients, families, and nurses working together to achieve this common goal. Allen also significantly impacted the profession by founding what is now known as the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research.

10.Mabel Keaton Staupers

For decades, black nurses suffered discrimination by both the US Army and ANA. Mabel Keaton Staupers helped change this after years of hard work as a private-duty nurse and a sanatorium superintendent. She was dismayed by the Army’s strict quotas for black nurses, so she mobilized massive protests and even met with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to discuss the issue. Her efforts paid off in 1945 when the Armed Forces Nurse Corps was opened to all applicants.

11.Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth may be best remembered for her inspiring work as an abolitionist, but she also served as a nurse for the Dumont family while still enslaved. After she escaped slavery, Truth continued to work as a nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War, primarily tending to black soldiers.

Truth’s hard work continued during the Reconstruction era, when she provided nursing and counseling services for the National Freedman’s Relief Association. Her efforts included strong advocacy for adopting hygienic practices within Freedman’s Hospital and advocating before Congress for enhanced training.

12.Christiane Reimann

Christiane Reimann may not be the most recognizable name in nursing, but she had an outsized impact on the field. Reimann was the first executive secretary for the International Council of Nurses, which now honors hardworking medical professionals with the Christiane Reimann Prize. The prize is awarded to those who have had “a significant impact on the nursing profession internationally or through the nursing profession for the benefit of humanity” and is widely regarded as the most prestigious award in the field of nursing.

13.Anna Caroline Maxwell

Sometimes referred to as “the American Florence Nightingale,” a nickname she earned when treating a typhoid fever outbreak during the Spanish-American War, Anna Caroline Maxwell was mentored by the aforementioned Richards. After serving as the superintendent of a nurse training program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Maxwell had the opportunity to establish a formal curriculum at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also lobbied for the creation of a nursing corps and was ultimately successful.

14.Ruby Bradley

As one of the US military’s most decorated women, Ruby Bradley began her career as a surgical nurse with the Army Nurse Corps. A few weeks after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, she was captured by the Japanese. This did not stop Bradley from providing care. In fact, she and her fellow nurses were regularly referred to as “the Angels in Fatigues.” Her commitment continued during the Korean War, when Bradley served briefly as the 171st Evacuation Hospital’s chief nurse, followed by a stint as the chief nurse for the Eighth Army.

15.Martha Ballard

Historians credit Martha Ballard with providing one of the most in-depth glimpses into life on the frontier. While she was not formally trained, Ballard exemplified the power of early female healers, drawing on an extensive knowledge of herbs to treat many maladies. She also delivered hundreds of babies during her time as a midwife.

16.Luther Christman

As a nursing pioneer, Luther Christman strongly believed that nurses should be allowed to spend more time providing targeted patient care rather than being relegated to administrative tasks. He helped implement a plan for integrating education, research, and practice to develop the Rush Model of Nursing, emphasizing unit decentralization and quality assurance.

17.Joe Hogan

One of history’s most influential black nurses, Joe Hogan received significant backlash when he attempted to apply to attend the Mississippi University for Women (MUW). He was informed that he could merely audit classes rather than take them for credit. Eventually, Hogan filed a lawsuit, alleging that the university’s decision violated his 14th Amendment rights. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled MUW’s policy unconstitutional.

18.Edward Lyon

Before Edward Lyon was commissioned as a US Nurse Corps reserve officer, male nurses typically worked as pharmacy techs or orderlies. Having previously served as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, Lyon made the most of the opportunity to join the Nurse Corps following legislative changes in 1955 and helped spur a movement toward greater male nurse representation in the military.

19.Florence Guinness Blake

Another influential Florence in the nursing world, Florence Guinness Blake was a pediatric nursing trailblazer wholeheartedly committed to developing advanced programs for nursing education. These passions coalesced with her developing an advanced pediatric nursing program for the University of Chicago and later directing a pediatric nursing graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Blake earned a much-deserved spot in the ANA Hall of Fame following her death.

Start Your Nursing Journey Today

Do you hope to follow in the footsteps of the amazing nurses highlighted above? A bright future awaits, but you’ll have a far greater impact if you get a strong nursing education.

This is well within reach when you attend Bryant & Stratton College. We offer a variety of nursing programs: a practical nursing diploma, an associate degree, an RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program, and BSN programs in New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Ready to get started? Request info to learn more about these and other compelling opportunities to launch your healthcare career.

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