Today in the chart

5 Trailblazing Nurses to Inspire You

As the nursing week begins to wrap up, we’re bringing you the last round of inspirational stories about nurses from history.

As the nursing week wraps up, we’re bringing you the last round of inspirational stories about nurses from history. The featured ones are just a tiny sliver of the many remarkable nurses in our past, and we plan to bring you more stories of them in future articles. 

Hector Hugo Gonzalez 

After earning a nursing diploma in 1962, a bachelor’s in 1963, and then a master’s in nursing education administration in 1966, Hector Hugo Gonzalez spent two years serving in the US Army Nurse Corps. Immediately afterward, he began teaching while also working on his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction in high education. When he earned it at the University of Texas at Austin in 1974, he became the first Mexican-American RN to earn a doctorate in the US. 

That wouldn’t be his last “first,” however. He later became the first Hispanic and the first male president of the Texas Nurses Association District 8, followed by serving as treasurer of the Texas Nurses Association and vice president of the Texas League for Nursing. Then, for two decades, Gonzalez led the Department of Nursing Education at San Antonio College, where he instituted various innovative programs that colleges have since copied. Those included earning an RN with all night classes and a curriculum that students could complete on a part-time or full-time basis. 

Linda A. J. Richards (1841 - 1930)

Linda Richards spent much of her childhood moving around before losing her parents to tuberculosis by age 13. The experience of losing them and other early life experiences put her on the path toward medical work. While working in Boston as an “assistant nurse,” Richards became one of the first five students accepted into the newly founded training program for nurses at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. 

She completed the program in 1873 and began working as a night superintendent at New York City’s Bellevue Training School, the first US Nightingale model training school. As the nation’s first “training nurse,” Richards faced opposition from physicians who disagreed with training nurses. Still, she persisted, lending her leadership to multiple nurse training programs in the US in Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere. She also served as the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools in 1894, the first professional organization for nurses. 

Mary Seacole (1805 - 1881)

Another pioneering battlefield nurse, Mary Seacole, was a British-Jamaican nurse who set up a make-shift hospital and quarters for sick and injured soldiers during the Crimean War in the United Kingdom. Seacole’s work stood out not only because of being a woman of mixed race but also because she brought her Jamaican knowledge of herbal remedies into her work. 

Some medical historians also regard Seacole as the first nurse practitioner after she set up her “British Hotel” behind the frontlines of the Crimean War. The War Office had refused her application to join them, so she independently set up her area to care for the wounded. Seacole also had the travel bug and crossed the Atlantic in her voyages, even nursing people during a cholera outbreak in Panama in 1852. 

Susie King Taylor (1848 - 1912)

While many know of Clara Barton’s nursing during the Civil War, fewer have heard of Susie King Taylor, who worked with Barton. King Taylor spent the first seven years of life enslaved on a plantation, finally escaping slavery in 1962 with family members who fled to an island off the Georgia coast. After secretly attending illegal schools in Georgia before her escape (the law prohibited formal education for African Americans), King Taylor became the first Black teacher in Georgia to openly teach African Americans. 

She married a Black Union officer and then began working as a nurse for his regiment and later at a hospital in Beaumont, South Carolina, where she worked alongside Barton. She wasn’t paid a dime during the four years she served in the Union Army as a nurse. After the war, King Taylor opened a school for Black children.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (1923 - 2011)

Born in Florida in the Seminole tribe, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper couldn’t attend public school because of segregation laws and therefore moved to North Carolina when she was 14 so she could attend the Cherokee Indian Boarding School there. She graduated as one of the first Seminole Indians to earn a high school diploma and then completed the nursing program at the Kiowa Indian Hospital in Oklahoma. Having already faced discrimination for being Indian, Tiger Jumper then struggled with the prejudice within the Native American community that trusted only medicine men, not women, to care for the sick, but Tiger Jumper wasn’t deterred. 

She began working as a travel nurse, especially tending to people in the Seminole community. In addition to becoming the first—and, so far, only—female chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Tiger Jumper also became the first health director of the Seminole tribe. She founded a tribal newsletter called Seminole News and served 16 years on the federal National Congress on Indian Opportunity after President Richard Nixon appointed her to the council. 

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