Today in the chart

More Extraordinary Nurse Trailblazers to Know

As Nurses Week continues, we’re continuing to bring you mini portraits of remarkable nurses throughout history.

As Nurses Week continues, we will bring mini portraits of remarkable nurses throughout history. Perhaps you’ll see a hero you’ve always admired in this bunch, or maybe you’ll discover a new role model who inspires you. 

Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)

Mental health care remains difficult to access throughout much of the United States. However, it’s still a far cry better today than before it was recognized as a legitimate medical condition requiring care. Dorothea Dix is one of the reasons for that. Despite a tumultuous upbringing, including alcohol-abusing parents, an abusive father, and multiple bouts of illness, Dix became a leading progressive reformer of the 19th century. She toured mental asylums and discovered deplorable conditions, with mentally ill patients locked up and shackled like prisoners in unhygienic environments. 

When Dix failed to persuade politicians of the need to reform conditions for people with mental illness, she established asylums in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Illinois. She also played a critical role during the Civil War, when she served as Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army and recruited high-quality nurses—standards that were too high, some argued—through the war’s end. She became famous for treating Union and Confederate soldiers, and after the war, she campaigned for a national monument to honor fallen soldiers.  

Joe Hogan

Most of the gender discrimination throughout the US has been against women, but Joe Hogan flipped the script when he sought to earn his bachelor’s in nursing while working as a nurse supervisor in a community hospital in the late 1970s. As a Black man, Hogan couldn’t find any nursing program to accept him that was closer than 150 miles, so he applied to the Mississippi University for Women. Though he met enrollment requirements, the school denied him the ability to enroll for credits (though they said he could audit). So he sued the university for violating his 14th Amendment rights; the Equal Protection Clause. His case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in an opinion written, both ironically and appropriately enough, by Sandra Day O’Connor, the court’s first female justice. Since the school’s ban against men violated the Equal Protection Clause, Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan ended sex discrimination in publicly funded nursing schools in the US.

Elizabeth Sadoques Mason (1897 - 1985) 

Though her family was part of the Western Abenaki people, indigenous North Americans in Canada, Elizabeth Sadoques Mason was born the youngest of eight children in New Hampshire after her parents migrated to the United States and ran a basket-making and tannery business. When Sadoques became a registered nurse after graduating from St. Mary’s Free Hospital for Children in New York in 1919, she was thought to be the first Native American woman to become a nurse. However, her sister Maude, who became Sister Benedicta as an Episcopalian nun, is believed to have become an RN first. Sadoques married World War I veteran Claude Francis Mason, and they remained in Keene, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, not much more is known about Sadoques Mason’s life. Still, she did give a talk in 1922 on her family’s history and the discrimination they faced.

Dr. Kazue Togasaki (1897-1992) 

Born in San Francisco, Kazue Togasaki lived through the 1906 earthquake when she was nine. When her mother helped turn their church into a makeshift hospital for earthquake and fire victims, Togasaki helped tend to the patients and acted as a translator. The experience inspired her to work in the medical field, and she graduated first in her nursing class. But she couldn’t find work because no one would hire a “Japanese nurse,” so she crossed the country to Philadelphia and attended medical school to become one of the first Asian American female doctors in the country. 

When the Pearl Harbor bombing brought the US into World War II, it also led to the internment of Japanese Americans in American concentration camps with horrible conditions. At Tanforan Assembly Center, where Togasaki was sent, she set up a medical center and delivered more than 50 babies in her first month there. She soon set up similar centers in five other Japanese internment centers. After the war, Togasaki continued her work, delivering more than 10,000 babies before she retired at age 75. 

Henrieta Villaescusa (1920-2005)

Devoting her life to working in public health, Henrieta Villaescusa became the first Hispanic nurse to hold several positions. She was the only Hispanic Public Health Supervisor in the Los Angeles Public Health Department shortly after earning her Masters at UCLA. Then she was the first Hispanic nurse appointed Health Administrator in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the first Mexican American Chief Nurse Consultant in the Office of Maternal & Child Health in the Bureau of Community Health Services. She worked as an advisor to several politicians and, even after retirement, worked with US Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello to develop the West Coast part of the Hispanic Health Initiative. Under President Reagan, she was appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to serve on the Task Force on Minority Health. Villaescusa’s work showed the vital role nurses could and should play in shaping public health policy.

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