History of Nursing, Influential American Nursing Pioneers

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History of Nursing

Influential Nursing Pioneers

A look at the most influential nurses in American history and some of their accomplishments.

Clara Barton 1821 – 1912(1,2)

  • Hospital nurse in the Civil War where she earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield”
  • Worked to locate missing soldiers and testified before Congress about wartime experiences
  • Named the head nurse for one of Union General Benjamin Butler’s units in 1864, despite having no formal medical training
  • Founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led the organization for 23 years
  • Quote: “I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.” – Clara Barton(3)

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Mary Eliza Mahoney 1845 – 1926(4)

  • Nursing leader and advocate for civil and women’s rights
  • The first African-American woman to complete nurse’s training in 1879
    • Of the 42 students admitted to the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s nursing program that year, Mahoney was one of only four to graduate
  • Co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908
  • The NACGN established an award in her name in 1936, and the Mary Mahoney award has been continued by the American Nurses Association

Lydia Hall 1906 – 1969(5)

  • Established and directed the Loeb Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York, from 1963 to 1969
    • The Loeb Center was nurse-led, and care was directed by nurses, not physicians
  • Developed the “Care, Cure, Core” model of nursing, devoted to personalized care of patients
  • Researched and worked in the field of rehabilitation of chronically ill patients

Lillian Holland Harvey 1912 – 1994(6)

  • Director of Nurse Training at the John A. Andrew Hospital, at Tuskegee University from 1944 to 1973
    • There, she established the first baccalaureate degree program in nursing in Alabama (1953) and became Dean of the School of Nursing
  • She had a number of prestigious achievements throughout her career, including: (7,8)
    • Member of the Board of Directors for the National League for Nursing
    • Recipient of the Award for Distinguished Achievement in Nursing and the American Nurses’ Association Mary Mahoney Award
    • Alabama State Nurses’ Association establish an annual Lillian Holland Harvey Award in her honor
  • Quote: “Come to Tuskegee School of Nursing as you are, and you will leave as you ought to be.” – Lilian Holland Harvey

Luther Christman, 1915 – 2011(10,11)

  • First man to hold a position as dean of an American nursing school
  • Held academic positions at Vanderbilt University, Rush University and the University of Michigan
  • Helped found the National Male Nurse Association, which later became the American Assembly for Men in Nursing
  • Honored with the Living Legend award by the American Academy of Nursing in 1995
  • Became the first man to be inducted into the American Nursing Association’s Hall of Fame in 2004

Rear Admiral Faye Glenn Abdellah 1919 – 2017(12,13, 14)

  • An accomplished nursing researcher, she published more than 150 articles
  • Korean War veteran
  • Recipient of five Distinguished Service Medals
  • The first nurse to achieve the position of Rear Admiral Upper Half, and the first nurse and woman to hold the position of Deputy Surgeon General
  • Developed a system called the “Twenty-one nursing problems theory” to identify a patient’s needs
  • Quote: “I decided that I would never again be powerless to assist when people were in so dire a need. It was at that moment that I thought that I’ve got to do something.  I’ve got to become a nurse.” – Faye Glenn Abdellah(12)

Sylvia Trent-Adams, 1965 – (15,16,17)

  • Rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and current Deputy Surgeon General
  • Served as acting Surgeon General of the United States from April 21, 2017 to September 5, 2017
  • Nurse officer in the Army since 1992
  • Served as deputy associate administrator of the HIV/AIDS Bureau within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
  • Quote: “I have taken care of generals, senators, and homeless people.” – Sylvia Trent-Adams(15)

Nursing then and now(18,19,20,21,22,23)

  • In 1873, the first three schools of nursing were established in the US
    • New York Training School at Bellevue Hospital
    • Connecticut Training School at the State Hospital (later renamed New Haven Hospital)
    • Boston Training School at Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Today, there are 684 nursing education programs accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (19)
  • The RN workforce is expected to grow from 2,955,200 in 2016 to 3,393,200 by 2026 (20)
  • New BSN graduates currently see job offer rates of 94% within 4 to 6 months of completing their programs(21)