Women’s History Day is a time to honor women whose leadership and sacrifices have awakened new paths for generations to come. Throughout history, the majority of nurses have been women. Even today, 86% of nurses in the U.S. identify as female – and there are over 4 million nurses in the country! Women in nursing have made significant contributions to the fields of medicine and healthcare. Let’s take a look at 5 remarkable women in nursing whose skills and expertise have forged the profession of modern nursing.
1. Dorothea Dix
Before Dorothea Lynde Dix began her crusade, the mentally ill had few advocates. Dix initiated a statewide investigation of living conditions of the mentally ill in Massachusetts. This tour led Dix to craft “Memorial”, a report of the egregious human rights violations she had found.
Dix presented the report to the state legislature, which led to an expansion and improvement of the state’s mental hospital system.
This pioneering nurse advocate performed similar investigations in New Hampshire, Louisiana, North Carolina, and other states. The end result of her work was increased awareness across the southern U.S. (and eventually the entire country) that the mentally ill deserve fair treatment, care, and concern. She helped advance the specialty of psychiatric nursing.
2. Clara Barton
As the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton is still affecting millions today. She worked as a nurse during the Civil War, attending to soldiers involved in many violent battles.
Following the war, Barton spoke publicly of her war experiences around the country, bringing her recognition that eventually allowed her to speak to Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur.
President Arthur approved the creation of the American Red Cross, which continues to assist victims of natural disasters around the United States.
3. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown
Starting as a staff nurse in Japan and Chief Nurse in Korea, Johnson-Brown went on to become the first African American female to become a general in the U.S. Army in 1979. Johnson-Brown was appointed Chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps that same year. In total, her ground-breaking military nursing career spanned 26 years.
4. Mary Ezra Mahoney
Mahoney was the first African American in the U.S. to graduate from nursing school and work as a professional nurse.
After graduation in 1879, she went on to work as a private care nurse, and in 1908, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.
Today, 10% of nurses in the United States identify as African American or Black, thanks to Mahoney’s trailblazing career path.
5. Virginia Lynch
Lynch is the mother of forensic nursing. While in nursing school, she met victim after victim of rape. Police officers would tell her the rapist would likely not be caught; evidence in the form of the victim’s clothes, personal items, and specimens was often lost or discarded instead of being turned in to the authorities.
Lynch made it her mission to improve education about keeping the evidence intact, and how to use it to find criminals.
Thanks to Lynch, a new form of nursing was born. Today, forensic nursing is keeping more criminals safely behind bars and more women out of harm’s way.
These nurses helped lay the foundation for what nursing has become today!