5 Nurses in History Who Broke the Mold

The nursing field has been shaped by some powerful women who recognized the importance of patient care and the potential nurses had in making a difference in the medical community. Learn more about these nurses in history who broke the mold and reshaped the nursing field.

Florence Nightingale: Founder of Modern nursing.

 Considered the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale is perhaps the most well-known nurse in medicine because of her lasting contributions to the profession. She completed her nurse’s training in 1851 from the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany. However, her legacy began with her experiences in the Crimean War. Upon entering the war zone in Turkey on behalf of Great Britain, Florence discovered horrendous conditions, including unsanitary hospitals, minimal supplies, mass infections, overworked staff and generally poor patient care. Her diligence and commitment to British soldiers led to improved hospital conditions and hygiene, helping to reduce infections and improve the survival rate of wounded soldiers. Upon returning from the Crimean War, Florence established the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1860. Florence continued her support and advocacy of the nursing profession throughout her lifetime.

Mary Eliza Mahoney: The First African-American woman to become a registered nurse.

Recognized as the first African-American woman to become a registered nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney paved the way for minorities in the medical profession. Mary attended the New England Hospital for Women and Children nursing school at the age of 33. She was one of 42 candidates and one of only four who graduated from the program. After graduation, she went into private practice and registered with the Nurses’ Directory at the Massachusetts Medical Library. She was a perpetual advocate for the rights of black nurses and co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. The association is now the American Nurses Association.

Mary Breckinridge: Started the Frontier Nursing Service.

Born and raised in the Appalachian mountains in the late 19th century, Mary Breckinridge is often credited with founding the first family care centers and sparking the concept and practice of rural health care. Mary attended St. Luke’s Hospital in New York and became a registered nurse in 1910. Her early nursing career took her to France where she was introduced to the practice of midwifery as part of the American Committee for Devastated France after WWI. She would later study the practice in London and is credited with introducing it to America. Mary founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925, which encompassed a team of nurse-midwives with a mission of serving the medical needs of people in Appalachian communities throughout eastern Kentucky. Services included general and maternal care.

Virginia Avenel Henderson: Well-known nursing educator and a prolific author.

Known as the “first lady of nursing,” Virginia Avenel Henderson is considered to be among the most influential nurses of the 20th century due to her contributions to the nursing profession through the development of nursing theory. Her most notable theory was the notion that nurses should aid everyone in their quest for better health. She graduated from the U.S. Army School of Nursing in 1921 and later earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Florence Guinness Blake: Known for her work in pediatrics.

Many of the advances in nursing education can be attributed to Florence Guinness Blake, who was an advocate for advanced, standardized training for nurses to support optimal patient care services. Florence is also known for her work in pediatrics and her devotion to the care of children. She earned her nursing credentials in 1928 from the Michael Reese Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago. Florence enrolled in Columbia University’s Teacher College in 1932 to support her interest in pediatric nursing education. She also earned a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Michigan in 1941. Florence’s contributions to nursing education, specifically pediatric education, have led to improved patient care and nursing professionalism.

These nurses are among the powerful women who shaped the field of nursing through their commitment and passion, as well as continued education. You can start to find your place in nursing history by earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Notre Dame College. Our RN to BSN program is offered fully online to meet the needs of today’s nursing professional. Patient-centered curriculum focuses on patient care outcomes through practical lessons and hands-on experiences that equate to better outcomes. You have the chance to expand your knowledge and enhance your professional skills with a bachelor’s degree.

Notre Dame College is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).