Influential Nurses

Nursing has evolved and changed over time. It would not be what it is today without many influential, dedicated and hardworking nurses. There are a number of influential nurses who have impacted our profession for centuries, some you may know and some you may not. Each of these nurses contributed, in various degrees, to larger political and/or social movements and laid the groundwork for the advanced practice nursing profession as it exists today.


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Known as “The Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale’s influence on nursing is undeniable. Her passion for statistics led to the development of the Nightingale rose diagram, and she established the world’s first secular nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. In addition, she published Notes on Nursing as a core curriculum at the Nightingale School. An inspiration to so many in the nursing profession, Ms. Nightingale treated the sick regardless of class, condition or time of day.


Linda Richards (1841-1930)

As the first professionally trained nurse in the United States, Linda Richards used her career to support many other pursuits. She established the first nurse-training programs in the United States and Japan, and directed her energy on mental hospitals. Ms. Richards also created the first system for keeping individual medical records for hospitalized patients and paved the way for official standards in nursing and nurse training.


Anna Caroline Maxwell (1851-1929)

Considered the “American Florence Nightingale”, Anna C. Maxwell served as the first superintendent of nurses at the Presbyterian Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York City where she devoted her career to elevating educational standards for nursing. A pioneer of nursing, Maxwell was dedicated to improved nursing education, standardizing nursing procedures, and increasing public acceptance of nursing as a profession.


Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Born Clarissa Harlowe Barton, Clara began her her nursing career at the age of 11, and went on to found the Red Cross in 1881 and lead it for 23 years.  Her understanding of the ways she could provide help to people in distress guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service. 


Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Mary Mahoney was the first African-American professional registered nurse and her involvement in the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada led to the beginnings of the more inclusive American Nurses Association.  The Mary Mahoney Award continues to be awarded today by the ANA to influential nurses or groups of nurses who promote integration within their field. 


Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965)

Dedicating her life to improving the health of women and children, Mary Breckinrdige established the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925 to provide professional health care in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky, one of America’s poorest and most isolated regions. A certified nurse-midwife, Mary is recognized by the American College of Nurse Midwives as “the first to bring nurse-midwifery to the United States.”


Florence Guinness Blake (1907-1983)

Florence Blake was a highly respected pediatric nurse and one of the first nursing educators to focus on the development of advanced clinical content in nursing curricula. She went on to become one of the authors of Essentials of Pediatrics, a text widely used in schools of nursing, and The Child, his Parents, and the Nurse (1954) to communicate her concern that nurses work with parents in the care of children.