Nursing Lifestyle

Nursing Pioneers Who Changed the Profession Forever

Without these 10 nursing pioneers, the nursing industry would not be what it is today.

Nursing Pioneers Who Changed the Profession Forever

Photo: Clara Barton by Deborah Robertson (Flickr)

Nurses are amazing people who put their hearts into their work. Nurses often go without recognition, praise, and advocates. Looking back into the history of nursing, there are many remarkable nurses who modeled nursing and healthcare into the highly important industry that it is today. Without these groundbreaking nurses, nursing might have a totally different “look” in this modern world.

The most influential nurses in history demanded better training, equality, improved nursing practices, and recognition. They taught today’s nurses how to care for patients, to be compassionate and to heal the mind as well as the body. Without these nursing pioneers, nursing education might be different, record keeping could be chaotic, and there might be more discrimination in the medical field than ever.

1. Florence Nightingale

Where would nursing be without the founder of modern nursing? Florence Nightingale was a wealthy woman who changed British healthcare. She could have led a life of leisure, but she used her talents to care for and heal injured British soldiers during the Crimean War. She was also the first female fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and refined the polar-area diagram or a form of a pie chart. She was a hospital designer and a social reformer who convinced Queen Victoria to reform nursing in the military. Florence was also highly educated and could speak several languages.

2. Clara Barton

Clara Barton is known as the “America’s Angel of the Battlefield.” She worked without rest and nursed soldiers back to health during the Civil War. She was appalled by the lack of medical supplies on the battlefield and physically took medical supplies to battlefields. Clara Barton nursed the wounded where they fell after being wounded. Barton did not have a formalized nursing education,so she provided self-taught nursing care. Clara Baron was the founder of the Red Cross in 1881 and led the organization until 1904.

3. Mary Breckinridge

Mary Breckinridge began her nursing career in 1910 and introduced nurse-midwifery to the United States. Breckinridge spent time in France after WWI with the American Committee for Devastated France. She founded the Frontier Nursing Service in 1925 and helped provide prenatal and postnatal care to women in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. Breckinridge was born into a prominent family and was discouraged by her mother from going into a nursing career. However, Mary persevered and obtained a nursing degree from St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. She traveled to London, England  and received an advanced Midwife Training degree at a hospital there.

4. Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix is known as an advocate of mental health care. In 1861, Dix oversaw over 6,000 hospital nurses and was appointed the superintendent of female nurses for the Union Army. Dix felt more was needed for mentally ill patients and lobbied the U.S. Congress vigorously to create mental asylums. Dorothea Dix lobbied for better mental health care and founded at least 32 mental hospitals in the U.S. She was also an advocate for the rights of mentally ill people.

5. Eliza Marie Gillespie

Mother Mary of St. Angela or Eliza Marie Gillespie was a leader of her Catholic order and an exceptional nurse. She served as a wartime nursing administrator, publisher, teacher and organizer of charitable causes. Mother Angela’s first adventure in nursing came during a cholera outbreak in Lancaster , Ohio. Her uncle, the community doctor, took Eliza with him as he treated patients. At the tender age of 14, she learned how to dress wounds and diagnose illness. She received her nursing skills at the state-funded St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland and joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1853. She was called on by General Ulysses S. Grant to care for injured soldiers in Cairo, Illinois. She helped convert a collection of warehouses into a 1,500-bed military hospital. Here she demanded cleanliness, sheets, and pillowcases that were immaculate and white, and cheerful patients and staff.

6. Mildred Dalton Manning

Mildred Dalton Manning was a U.S. Army Nurse Corps Lt., who was held as a POW on Bataan and Corregidor during WWII. Manning joined the Army Nurse Corps to see the world and requested to serve in the Philippines. On April 9th during a lull in the bombing of Bataan Lt. Dalton’s experience as a surgical nurse came in handy but ill-prepared her for the gruesome nursing work among the injured on Bataan. She suffered for the next three years in a POW camp on Corregidor where she worked hard caring for the other prisoners. Mildred outlived all of her comrades from Bataan and Corregidor. Her resilience and courage inspired nurses to complete their tours and be grateful for their careers.

7. Linda Richards

Linda Richards was the first professionally trained American nurse. She established training programs in the U.S. and Japan for nurses. Linda Richards designed the record-keeping procedures for nurses that are still used today in the U.S. and the U.K. She was overwhelmed by the disorganized records she discovered at her first nursing job. As a result she went on to become the Superintendent at the Boston Training School for Nurses in 1874. Richards also started the American Society of Superintendents of Training School and headed the Philadelphia Visiting Nurses Society.

8. Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger was a nurse in New York City’s Lower East Side where she witnessed many deaths from sub-standard abortions. She defied the authorities and opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. In 1942, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League that eventually became the Planned Parenthood Foundation. Sanger was instrumental in the development of the first birth control pill. Sanger went on to write a book called Family Limitation and was prosecuted for her thinking. She fled to Great Britain and stayed there until it was safe to return to the U.S. Opponents of abortion frequently target Sanger as an advocate of abortion, but she was opposed to abortion throughout her career. She only wanted safe contraception and choices for women.

9. Mary Marvin Wayland

There was a time when the evidence-based nursing practice was nonexistent. When Marvin began nursing in 1912, nurses were not encouraged to develop new procedures or be inventive, and techniques of care were dependent on the community. Wayland noted that there were too many different methods for preparing hypodermics, handwashing needed to be customized, and procedures for handling thermometers, brushes, and safe ways to lift and transport patient needed customization. She felt that nursing could be advanced if nurses had a solid understanding of anatomy, physiology, surgical processes, and diseases. She wrote Research in Nursing and pioneered today’s modern education for nurses.

10. Mabel Keaton Staupers

Mabel Keaton Staupers advocated for racial equality in the nursing field. She was the secretary to Mary Eliza Mahoney’s NAGGN and was a force to bring African-American nurses into the armed forces during World War II. In 1945, Staupers battled against the U.S. military discrimination policies and won. Her actions eventually led to race being thrown out as a deterrent for nurses being admitted in the military. Staupers helped establish the Booker T. Washington Sanatorium, one of the few clinics dedicated to caring for African Americans who had tuberculosis. Staupers also established the National Council of Negro Women.

These ten women put nursing in the forefront of their careers for both men and women. They improved nursing practices for their patients and other nurses. They demanded better training, equality, changed legislation and taught nurses everywhere how to care. These women shaped nursing into the positive and vital industry it is today.