Making a Difference: Famous Nurses
Nurses are the eyes and the ears of healthcare, no matter if they are nursing assistants or doctors of nursing. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 300,000 nursing jobs have been added since 2010, there still is a nursing shortage, especially RNs. Many online nursing programs have been added to alleviate this shortage as well as traditional nursing school programs. Online RN programs give access to rural students who may not be able to get to university classes. Online LPN programs aren’t in the same demand as the RN workforce is expected to rise 22 percent by 2018. Nursing has come a long way since Linda Ann Judson Richards became America’s first professionally trained nurse in 1873.
Despicable sanitary conditions during the Crimean War prompted Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) to work 20 hours a day tending to the sick and wounded soldiers in the English camps. She and her nurses fought cholera and typhus infection, frostbite and dysentery in the wards. “The Lady of the Lamp,” as she was called, as she was the only nurse allowed to work after 8 p.m., was born to affluent parents in Florence, Italy, the city she was named after. Her dedication spurred many men and women over the years to follow in her footsteps to attend nursing schools to begin “hands-on” nurse jobs.
Mary Todd Lincoln
Although Mary Todd Lincoln had no formal nursing education, Abraham Lincoln’s First Lady volunteered in the Union hospitals around the White House. She was broadly self-educated and an informal presidential advisor regarding military personnel and appointments. Although, history manifests that she suffered from severe depression and paranoia. Born December 18, 1818, in the Confederate state of Kentucky, this Union President wife’s life was beset by personal tragedy. She was brought up wealthy with no need to work, but loved politics. She married Abraham Lincoln in 1842 at the age of 23. They had four children, Robert Todd, Edward Baker, William “Willie” Wallace and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln. All four boys preceded her in death as well as her assassinated husband in 1865. She was deeply traumatized and committed to an asylum where she tried to commit suicide. Later, she was released into her sisters, Elizabeth Edwards, care. She died on July 16, 1882, at the age of 63 at her sister’s home.
The “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clarissa “Clara” Barton was born Christmas Day, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts to Captain Stephen and Sarah (Stone) Barton. Her nursing career began at the tender age of 11 when the shy, but studious, child nursed her older brother, David, through a serious illness. She opened her own “free” school at 25 after pursuing a liberal studies education focusing on writing and languages in New York. She worked in the U.S. Government Patent Office for a time before aiding soldiers at the forefront of the Civil War. She refused any salary for her untiring work, rallying supplies and care for the soldiers instead. She became Union nurse superintendent in 1864 and worked on 16 battlefields, on the front lines. After the war, she searched for missing servicemen and became the President of the American National Red Cross, establishing both wartime and peacetime work. Without ever attending any nursing programs, she received the Iron Cross, the Cross of Imperial Russia and the International Red Cross Medal. She lived by two mandates: be not concerned for what you cannot help and to be controlled under pressure. She retired to Glen Echo, Maryland, and died in 1912.
Mary Eliza Mahoney
After 15 years of working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, Massachusetts, as a cook, laundress, janitor and nurses’ aid, Mary Eliza Mahoney decided to further her unofficial “nursing occupation in 1878. She entered the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s RN program and graduated in August 1879, only one of four women making it through the rigorous program and the first black woman to earn professional licensure. She opened the door for African-American nurses after cofounding the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908. Although she received no special recognition for her many accomplishments during her lifetime, she has been honored many times since her death in 1926 from breast cancer, including being inducted to the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976, a half century after she died.
Considered both an angry rabble-rouser and women’s rights activist, the controversial Margaret Sanger fought her entire adult life to legalize birth control after believing that her mother died “from having too many children.” The elder Sanger died from tuberculosis. Bitter after nursing many immigrants who experienced “back-alley” botched abortions, she became even more adamant about limiting how many children a woman should have to the point of writing a pamphlet called, “Family Limitation.” Sanger, born Margaret Louise Higgins, in 1879, wrote about sex education and women’s health before being federally indicted on federal postal obscenity laws prompting her to flee to Europe until 1915. She founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 1952, serving as its president for seven years. Sanger, who had three children, died in 1966, living to see the U.S. Supreme Court legalize birth control for married couples a few months before her death.
Hazel W. Johnson-Brown
Retired Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown was the first black woman general in the U.S. Army. Born in 1927, the 16th Army Nurse Corps chief received her star in 1979. She joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1955 and served as a staff nurse in Japan and as chief nurse in Korea before becoming Assistant Dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing from 1976-1978. She aided in the development of new methods for sterilizing medical tools before becoming Director of the famed Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing in 1974. She retired from the Army in 1984, still serving as adjunct nursing professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland as well as serving as an advisor to many Surgeon Generals.
Virginia A. Henderson
Helping the patient gain independence quickly formed Virginia Avenel Henderson’s “Need Theory” of nursing. Four major concepts enveloped her theory: the individual as a whole, their environment, health and nursing them. Henderson was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897. She earned a diploma in nursing, equivalent to an LPN program, from Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed Hospital Army School of Nursing in 1921. She earned her bachelor degree in nursing in 1932 and her master’s in 1934. Five years before her death in 1996, she wrote the 5th edition of Harmer’s nursing, incorporating her 14 components of basic nursing care, including assessment, diagnosis, plan, implementation, process, and evaluation. Her theories are still used in both traditional and online nursing programs.
The humble Dorothea Dix spent her life caring for the mentally ill. She wanted no praise, and no recognition, wanting her achievements to “rest in silence” after her death in 1887. Born in April 1802 in Hampden, Maine, the eldest child of Joseph and Mary Dix did not live a carefree childhood. Her alcoholic father and mentally ill mother maintained an unstable home and left the care of Dorothea’s two younger brothers to her. She and her brothers left to stay with her wealthy grandmother, but did not want to adhere to her grandmother’s dictum that she be turned into a “lady of wealth.” Dorothea preferred administering to the poor, the imprisoned and the mentally ill. She passionately investigated and fought for better conditions for mental health patients in both the United States and abroad. She never attended any nursing school, yet visited them, advocating change in the way those suffering from mental illness were cared for. She won many legal battles, and she was no lawyer, her demeanor was quite timid.