6 Famous Nurses in History and Their Nursing Stories

The nursing profession remains one of the most honored, critical, and rewarding careers in the world. Whether you’re helping a sick child in Toronto or you’re caring for a sick man in Tokyo, nurses across the planet do everything in their power to aid the ill, the needy, and the dying. They also ensure that if you are healthy that you remain so. The hours might be dreadful, but nurses wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like every other job, there was someone who was at ground zero, who paved the way for future generations, who made certain that their fellow man could survive another day.

But who were these people? Here are six famous nurses every health professional needs to know:

1. Florence Nightingale

You know the name. You hear the references in motion pictures. But you might be in the dark as to who Florence Nightingale was. Well, she was instrumental in the advancement of the nursing profession.

Founder of modern nursing, Nightingale became integral to sanitary conditions in any medical or nursing setting. Mortality rates in British medical facilities were a lot higher than on the battlefields, causing outbreaks of cholera and typhus. But when Nightingale entered the picture, these numbers collapsed, introducing sanitary supplies, such as surgical caps and gloves.

Thanks to her acumen in mathematics, Nightingale crunched the numbers and utilized data that showed the leadership how imperative sanitary methods were to treating patients.


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2. Mary Seacole

Although she was rejected from offering nursing assistance to British soldiers throughout the Crimean war due to her skin colour, Mary Seacole resisted and helped sick people anyway. Using the best nursing supplies in her nursing kit and the knowledge her mother passed down to her, she was always prepared to come to the rescue of British and Jamaican soldiers, including during the Crimean war.

Known as one of the most famous nurses, Seacole was a brave woman who did her job on the battlefield rather than in the safe confines of a hospital. Despite the leadership rejecting Seacole’s aid, the soldiers appreciated and cared for Seacole. When she fell ill, many soldiers came to her aid and sent her money so she could love comfortably until her death.


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3. Clara Barton

At a time when women were confined to the home, Clara Barton was in the heart of the battlefields during the United States Civil War. She became such an important fixture in the war that she was nicknamed the Angel of the Battlefield.

During the war, Barton traveled with army ambulances and gathered and distributed supplies, clothing, and food, as well as provided treatment. This brought about the American Red Cross, a humanitarian service that still does work in the U.S. and around the world today. It also helped race relations because the organization did not care what your race was; if you needed help, the Red Cross would be there.


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4. Virginia Avenel Henderson

Called the First Lady of Nursing, Virginia Avenel Henderson developed the Nursing Theory and is now considered the most famous nurse of the 20th century. In addition to the technique of nursing, her theory clearly defined the roles of nurses and states that nurses should aid everyone for either better health care or a peaceful death. This was a huge development in nursing, making her one of the most famous nurses in history.


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5. Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first black registered nurse. Her interest in the nursing profession didn’t happen overnight. She wanted to become a nurse in her teenage years, going as far as working in a New England Hospital for women and children as a cook, laundress, and janitress for 15 years before becoming a nurse.

She was an unofficial nursing aid, but she was eventually admitted into the hospital’s nursing school. She excelled so much that the school modified its policy and accepted black students.


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6. Dorothea Dix

At a time when mental illness was still relatively unknown, Dorothea Dix became the voice of the voiceless, first in Massachusetts and then the rest of the United States. Teaching the mentally disabled inmates at the East Cambridge Jail, she saw the abysmal and hellacious conditions these women had to endure.

She advocated on their behalf to the state legislator and the Congress, winning numerous court cases with extensive data. Soon, she was nearly granted five million acres of land for a mental hospital, but it was vetoed by President Franklin Pierce. However, in 1887, New Jersey constructed the Trenton state hospital for the mentally ill.


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Here are three other famous nurses in history:

  • Walt Whitman (Nurse and poet)
  • Mary Breckinridge (Founder of the New Model of Rural Health Care & Frontier Nursing Service)
  • Ruby Bradley (Colonel of the Army Nurse Corps)

It can be difficult to emulate these women (and man) because they were historical figures who changed history forever, whether it was medical treatment or race relations. The only thing you could ever do is try to live up to their expectations and do your best for the patient. That’s what they would want.

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