Today in the chart

8 of History’s Most Remarkable Nurses

In honor of the upcoming National Nurses Week the second week of May, we’re going to be running a series of stories about remarkable nurses throughout history.

In honor of the upcoming National Nurses Week, here is a list of remarkable nurses throughout history! Perhaps the lives and achievements of these incredible healthcare workers will inspire you or remind you how much nurses have impacted society. Let us know if you have any suggestions for historical nurses we should highlight! Aside from our first nurse on the list today, the obvious choice, all others in each story, are presented in alphabetical order.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (1820-1920) must be the first person on our list as the founder of modern nursing. In her remarkable century-long lifetime, she overhauled sanitation procedures. Then, she introduced data to track those interventions’ effects as she and other nurses tended to injured British soldiers during the Crimean War. When she first began, military field hospitals had seven times as many deaths as occurred on the battlefield because the unhygienic conditions meant the unfettered spread of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhus. But those rates dropped rapidly after she introduced surgical cap use, frequent hand washing, and other hygiene practices. She established a nursing school and developed principles in training nurses that persist today.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton (1821-1912) was another battlefield nurse who tended soldiers in the American Civil War, where she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” Her work went far beyond caring for wounds and other ailments, however. Barton organized relief programs to gather and distribute medical supplies, comfort and cook for nurse victims, and track down missing men so she could let their families know what happened to them. These activities became formalized through her founding of the American Red Cross and the establishment of the National First Aid Association of America.

Goldie D. Brangman

Goldie D. Brangman (1920-2020) was a nurse anesthetist who co-founded the School of Nurse Anesthesia at Harlem Hospital in 1951 and then served as the first African American president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. And a decade before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Brangman was part of the medical team that kept him alive, manually pumping his breathing bag after a failed assassination attempt in 1958.

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926) Born to freed enslaved parents in Boston, Mahoney came of age during the Civil War and, already set on becoming a nurse, began working as a teenager in the New England Hospital for Women and Children. But at that time, there were no African American nurses in the US. That didn’t stop Mahoney, who was admitted to the hospital’s graduate school for nursing when she was 33, after 15 years of working there. When she and three other women completed training in 1879, she became the first Black registered nurse in the country.  

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (1920-2010) was born into a family of health professionals in Panama but moved to San Antonio when she was 25. She quickly saw how few Hispanic nurses existed to care for the large, and growing, the Hispanic population in the US. So, with the goal of attracting more Hispanic people to the field, Murillo-Rohde established the National Association of Hispanic Nurses in 1975. Meanwhile, as a federal reviewer of research and educational grants, Murillo-Rohde similarly observed too few Latina nurses in academia and worked to recruit more into the field, earning a Fellowship from the American Academy of Nursing in the process. She went on to become the first Hispanic dean of nursing at NYU.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) led the movement to bring reproductive freedom to women by championing the birth control movement and helping lead efforts that ultimately resulted in the development of the hormonal birth control pill in 1960. Growing up in poverty, Sanger watched how her mother suffered physically from 11 pregnancies. After attending nursing school, Sanger became involved in various progressive issues, including labor protests. But her

mission became educating women about birth control, believing that limiting family size was crucial to ending women’s poverty. As a result, she broke the law to distribute information about birth control while working simultaneously to repeal those laws.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was best known for working toward abolition, temperance, and women’s civil rights, but she also strongly supported nurse training programs when formal nurse training didn’t yet exist. Though born as an enslaved person who was bought and sold four times and never learned to read or write, Truth gave impactful speeches in favor of equality and women’s suffrage.

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail

Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail (1903-1981) was not the first American Indian registered nurse in the US, but she was the first inducted into the American Nursing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2002. Born and raised on a Crow reservation in Montana, Yellowtail headed to Boston for nursing school before returning to her home and working at the Bureau of Indian Affairs Hospital. But she became disturbed by the discrimination Native American patients suffered, including the forced sterilization of Crow women. Believing such inequalities and abuses were likely more widespread, Yellowtail spent the next three decades traveling to reservations, working to improve reservation health care, and educating the public about Native American culture.

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