Women’s History Month celebrates the progress and achievement of women around the world, while also acknowledging that women, especially women of color, have often been excluded from history. It’s an opportunity for embracing education about women’s accomplishments and empowering women of the present. And there’s no doubt that women dominate the healthcare industry. In fact, more than 85% of nurses alone are women. And nurses are an integral part of the medical profession, the core of every facility. Throughout history they’ve guided the world of medicine by encouraging better sanitation practices, improving access to care, and spearheading development of preventative treatments. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are a few nurses (other than the famous Florence Nightingale, of course) who positively impacted the profession.
- Creating the medical record keeping system. Linda Richards (1841-1930) became the first American nurse to complete a formal nursing program in the United States. As she entered her career, she saw how the lack of medical records in most hospitals caused patients to suffer. There were no reliable records of patients’ previous conditions, chronic illnesses, or treatments that had already been tried. Richards eventually developed an organized system of note-taking and record-keeping to ensure that this was no longer a problem and having these medical records on hand help doctors to this day, to determine the best way to help their patients.
- A first for the Army Nurse Corps. After Hazel W. Johnson-Brown (1927-2011) was denied entry to the local nursing school because of her race, she enrolled in nursing school in New York and then enlisted in the army, where she earned multiple promotions. She became director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing, served as chief nurse of the army hospital in Seoul, and received a promotion to brigadier general and commanded the Army Nurse Corps. Johnson-Brown was the first Black woman to accomplish these feats, paving the way for future generations.
- Development of The Nursing Theory. Virginia Avenel Henderson (1897 to 1996) was the woman behind the development of nursing theory, carefully and clearly defining the roles of nurses in health care. Henderson's theory that nurses should aid everyone, sick and well, in the quest for better overall health or peaceful death is recognized as a major contribution to nursing practice and several of Henderson's published works are still widely used as nursing textbooks and source for basic and in-depth knowledge of nursing.
- Reproductive rights and women’s health. Margaret Sanger’s (1879-1966) beliefs around women’s rights to control their reproductive health were rooted in her experience with her own mother, who died at the age of 50. Sanger believed that her mother’s body had been irreparably damaged by an alarming 18 pregnancies with no spacing, eventually leading to death. Sanger advocated for access to birth control information and legal contraception and founded the American Birth Control League in 1921. She was also instrumental in promoting the development of "the pill," the first oral contraceptive.
- A focus on rural health care. Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965) dedicated her life to nursing the poor during both the 1918 flu pandemic and WWI. After these events she saw a need for midwifery and nursing in Appalachia, where she was from, as the area saw high maternal mortality due to lack of prenatal care. She founded the Frontier Nursing Service, providing care for low service fees, and later opened the Frontier School of Midwifery and Nursing Services, which still functions today. In the areas covered by the group, maternal and neonatal mortality rates significantly dropped.
These are just a few of the women that should be celebrated for their contributions to healthcare. And we’d love to hear about more. Share your favorite nurse, from the past or the present with our Community! And be sure to keep an eye on our social channels for more celebration, education, and awareness over the month.