Nurses play a vital role in health care by assisting doctors in patient care and helping patients understand the emotional, psychological and physical effects of illness. Every nurse makes an impact in their place of work and with patients, but some have also made a tremendous difference in both the field of nursing and in the world. Test your knowledge and see how many of these famous nurses you know:
1. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Florence Nightingale is perhaps the most famous nurse of all time and is known as the founder of modern nursing. Florence served as a nurse during the Crimean War where she cared for soldiers, trained other nurses and drastically improved hygiene conditions in hospitals. Her tireless work earned her the nickname, “the Lady with the Lamp.” After the war, she founded the first nursing school at London’s St. Thomas Hospital. Not only did Florence change nursing for the world, but she also professionalized nursing roles for women.
2. Clara Barton (1821-1912)
Originally a teacher, Clara Barton was a nurse during the Civil War. She provided care, food and supplies for wounded soldiers. Her care and bravery earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” However, her most notable work was after the Civil War. After spending some time in Europe, she came back to the U.S. to found the American Red Cross to provide medical aid for war and natural disasters. Today the organization is one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the country.
3. Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)
When Dorothea Dix began teaching Sunday school in East Cambridge Jail, she was appalled by the horrendous conditions for the imprisoned and mentally ill. Dorothea conducted investigations of almshouses and jails and created a formal report of her findings. She gained support, which provided her with additional funds for the mentally ill. Her work didn’t stop there. When the Civil War broke out, she volunteered as a nurse where she equally cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Her work carried on is a framework for compassion today.
4. Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)
Mary Eliza Mahoney knew early on that she wanted to be a nurse. However, she was difficult for her to get accepted into a nursing school because she was black. She worked at a New England hospital as a cook, maid and washerwoman before being accepted into its nursing program in 1878. She graduated the following year, one of just three students to graduate from the program. She became the first African American woman to obtain her nursing license. She worked mainly as a private care nurse for over 40 years and continued to advocate for minority nurses.
5. Mary Jane Seacole (1805- 1881)
When Mary Jane Seacole went to the English War Office asking to be sent as a nurse to Crimea, her request was denied. Although she had letters of recommendation from numerous doctors and previous work experience, she was discriminated against because she was black. Many would have given up, but Mary Jane personally financed her own trip to the Crimea, taking along supplies and medicines. She was turned away by Florence Nightingale’s hospital, so she built a structure called the British Hotel very close to the battlefield to treat wounded soldiers. After the war, many people donated money to thank bankrupt “Mother Seacole” for her commendable service in the Crimea.
6. Margaret Sanger (1875-1966)
Margaret Sanger’s life was shaped by her early childhood. Margaret’s mother died young due to health issues related to her pregnancies. Margaret became a nurse and quickly became involved in women’s rights. Margaret saw the ability to control family size as crucial to ending the cycle of women’s poverty. At the time, it was illegal to share information on birth control, so she launched her own feminist publication called The Woman Rebel. She was arrested after opening a birth control clinic, but this did not stop her. She went on to open what would later be known as Planned Parenthood and helped fund the modern oral contraceptive.
7. Mary Carson Breckinridge (1881-1965)
Mary Carson Breckinridge started her career in nursing later in life. After the death of her husband, Mary decided to go to nursing school. She spent two years in France working with the American Committee for Devasted France and initiated a program to provide food and medical assistance to children, nursing and pregnant mothers. She was convinced that a similar program was needed in the rural United States. Mary moved to Kentucky where she founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) which drastically brought down maternal and neonatal death rates in the area.
8. Edith Cavell (1865-1915)
Edith Cavell was a nurse during World War I. Edith worked at the Red Cross hospital which provided aid to casualties from both sides. She became involved in a network to help soldiers arrange their escape. Many men she treated she also helped smuggle out of Belgium into the Netherlands. She was arrested for this activity and was found guilty. She was executed by firing squad and she quickly became a symbol for the Allied cause. She has a statue in her honor just outside Trafalgar Square in London.
9. Virginia Henderson (1897-1996)
Virginia Henderson is known as the most famous nurse of the 20th century and the “First Lady of Nursing.” Virginia was a nurse educator who published many books on nursing, however, she is most famous for the Nursing Need Theory. The theory emphasizes the importance of a patient’s independence and focuses on basic human needs so that patients can heal quickly. Throughout her career, she sought to focus on nurse’s duties to patients.
10. Virginia Lynch (1941-current)
Virginia Lynch is a modern nurse who is known as the “Mother of Forensic Nursing”. While in nursing school Virginia met many rape victims who never got justice because victim's clothes and other evidence were not taken seriously. Her first experience in a crime lab opened her eyes to forensic nursing, and she became the first student enrolled in the first forensic nursing graduate program. Through her work, victims have been provided with care and healing knowing that offenders can be held accountable.
Do you want to see your name on this list? Do you want to learn more about becoming a nurse? Check out Herzing different nursing pathways:
- Diploma in Practical Nursing- getting your diploma can lead to a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). It is one of the fastest ways to start your career in nursing.
- Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)- with your ASN degree you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam for many entry-level nursing careers.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)- you could potentially start a wide variety of careers with your BSN degree.
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)- if you are already a nurse, continuing your education with an MSN degree might be a great idea for you!
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. Herzing does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salary.