Top 5 Most Important Nurses In History (Besides Florence Nightingale)
We have nothing against Florence Nightingale -- what an amazing inspiration to nurses everywhere. But can you say overexposure!? She pretty much comes in at #1 on every “important nurses” list known to nurse-kind. So we decided to put together a list of nurses without whom the profession -- and the world -- would not be the same.
These are the creators; these are a the titans of the field who, each in their own way, 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.
DOD /public domain
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 there are approximately 440,000 African American RNs and LPNs, according to Minority Nurse, thanks in part 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 were often lost or discarded instead of being turned into the authorities.
Lynch made it her mission to improve education around 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 to what nursing has become today! Do you know where nurses are in the top U.S. jobs of 2016?
Nurse.org's Popular Articles and Resources
Best Gifts for Nurses
Tis the season! Check out our list of the top gifts for nurses.
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
2021's Best Nursing Schools
We've looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top schools
Start your Career Quiz
Ready to take your career to the next level? Find out what your next step could be.