Celebrating Women in Nursing History

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to look back and recognize the impact of women in all fields. Nursing, a profession largely shaped by women, has played an important role in healthcare. Throughout the years, many women made a significant impact on the field and paved the way for future generations of nurses. Here are five nurses that left a legacy that continues on today.

The Lady with the Lamp 

Perhaps the most well-known nurse in history, Florence Nightingale is often referred to as the founder of modern nursing due to her innovative methods and emphasis on patient care. During the Crimean War in the mid-1800s, Nightingale led a team of nurses to provide care to wounded soldiers. By improving hygiene and living standards, Nightingale reduced the death rate and laid the foundation for modern infection control practices. She is a pioneer in nursing, and she continues to be an inspiration to nurses around the world. 

Mother to the Boys in Blue 

Known as Mother Bickerdyke to the soldiers, Mary Ann Bickerdyke was a nurse during the American Civil War. By implementing strict cleanliness practices in hospitals, her commitment to hygiene and sanitation helped reduced the spread of disease during the war. She was also instrumental in improving patient care by developing efficient hospital systems. She recognized the importance of organization and efficiency in the hospitals and implemented systems such as streamlining the supply chain, establishing field hospitals, and ensuring adequate supplies of food, clothing, and medical equipment. Bickerdyke had a lasting impact on the nursing profession. 

The First African American Registered Nurse 

At the age of 34, Mary Elizabeth Mahoney became the first African American to graduate from a nursing school. Due to the prevalent racial prejudice, Mahoney primarily worked as a private care nurse for wealthy families. She became known for her efficiency, preparedness, and professionalism. Mahoney sought to change the way people thought of minority nurses and abolish discrimination in the nursing field. She actively participated in the civil rights movement in the United States even when she retired. 

The Saint of the Asylum 

After teaching at the East Cambridge Jail, Dorothea Dix devoted 40 years to lobbying U.S. and Canadian legislators to establish state hospitals for those that were mentally ill. She was appointed the Superintendent of Nurses during the Civil War by the president and later established hospitals for mentally ill patients. Her efforts directly affected the foundation of 32 institutions in the United States. She also advocated for the work of female nurses throughout her career. 

The Founder of Public Health Nursing 

Lillian Wald is known for her contributions to human rights and pioneering public health nursing. Even though she lived a privileged life, Wald was inspired to go into nursing. After experiencing first-hand the hardships experienced by poor immigrant families in New York, Ward decided to dedicate her life to bring affordable and decent care to poor and middle-class communities. She coined the term “public health nurse” to describe those who worked outside of hospitals. Ward was also an advocate for the rights of many groups, such as women, children, immigrants, and laborers. Her legacy continues on due to her countless efforts to better public health. 

Recognizing Women’s Contributions 

There were many women that played a pivotal part in history. These five nurses are just a few examples of women who have made significant contributions to nursing throughout history. They helped advance the field of healthcare and pave the way for future nurses. Let’s recognize these and other women who have left a lasting legacy in their professions. If you have a nurse that inspires you, let us know who it is!

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