Skip to main content

History of Modern Nursing: The Pioneers of Nursing

Kitty graduated from nursing school in 2013 and has been working as a registered nurse in a hospital setting ever since.


A Developing History of Modern Nursing

In the past hundred and fifty years, the industry and profession of nursing has changed tremendously. A profession that was at one point thought to be demeaning and undesired has turned into a profession that thousands of people in the United States are coveting. How did the field of nursing go from a criminals' career to a modern-day hero's career?

There were many women (and men) who have helped in facilitating the improvements and great strides toward success in the field of nursing in the past one hundred and fifty years. But just who were these great men and women nurses, and how did they aid in the institutionalization of nursing as we know it today? I'm sure you've heard of Florence Nightingale, but how about Dorothea Dix or Sojourner Truth? Read on to learn about the most influential Pioneers of Nursing in the past two centuries.

Florence Nightingale - The Founder of Modern Nursing

Florence Nightingale is usually the first name that pops into one's mind when we hear the phrase "history of nursing" or "pioneers of nursing". And why wouldn't she? Florence Nightingale was a courageous and amazing woman and was able to implement theories and practices in the field of healthcare that we still use to this day.

Becoming a nurse was not a choice that Florence Nightingale's parents thought was a good decision. In fact, they did not want their daughter to become a nurse at all. Being a nurse in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not generally a welcomed, respected occupation. But Florence was a smart young woman and felt that she had a true calling to help those in need.

So what accomplishments did Florence have under her nurse's belt? And what of those accomplishments helped in changing the identity of nursing as we know it?

  • Florence is known as the first nurse researcher
  • Florence was one of the first to implement holistic health care approaches
  • Florence was instrumental in developing a nursing education process and practice
  • Florence decreased the mortality rates by some 40% by simply determining that the environmental surroundings of a patient had a direct effect on that patient (implementation of hand-washing and clean air, as well as other clean objects)

The Nurses of the Civil War

Quite a few young women were well-known for their nursing abilities during the Civil War era, including Dorothea Dix. Dorothea Dix was actually named the Superintendent of female nurses in the Union and she was responsible for recruiting nurses as well as supervising nurses caring for soldiers in the Army Hospitals.

Sojourner Truth was a strong, African American woman who not only battled for equal opportunity during the Civil War, but aided in nursing care and was a key agent in the Underground Railroad. Her strength and intestinal fortitude has made her one of the Pioneers of Modern Nursing, along with Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman was known as "the Moses of her people" after she aided in many slaves' safe passing in the Underground Railroad system during the Civil War era. Not only was Harriet Tubman a strength in that aspect of the War, but she also nursed the injured and sick soldiers of her race during the War.

In addition to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Dorothea Dix, one woman has become quite well-known for her establishment of the American Red Cross. That woman was Clara Barton. Clara volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War and saw a need for healthcare and community care even after War had ended and during times of peace.

Luther Christman

Luther Christman

Lavinia Dock

Lavinia Dock

Lillian Wald

Lillian Wald


Twentieth Century Pioneers of Modern Nursing

Ushering in the twentieth century, there was a huge fluctuation in the supply and demand of nurses. The training and education of nurses was becoming a commonplace thing, as nursing schools were opening up in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Having trained nurses in order to care for the sick in their homes and in hospitals was a necessity, and many women (both Caucasion and African American) entered schools and became nurses with the intent of acquiring and holding a skill for survival. Some of these women would come to be known in history and nursing books as "pioneers of modern nursing"...and with good reason.

In the early twentieth century, Lillian Wald was to become the founder of public health nursing, as she was the founder of a facility in New York city known as the Henry Street Settlement. Lillian believed that not only the rich deserved healthcare, but also the poor...and especially the poor who lived in the city slums of New York in unsanitary living conditions.

Linda Richards is actually said to be America's first "trained nurse", and she is known especially for introducing and implementing the concept of nurse's notes and doctor's orders within healthcare facilities in the early twentieth century. Linda was also a key player in research and development of nursing in psychiatric and industrial settings.

Mary Mahoney is known as the first African American professionally trained nurse. Mary is not only honored as a pioneer for modern nursing, but also a pioneer for equal rights for Afircan American nurses during the time of segregation.

Lavinia Dock is someone to be especially proud of, as a woman. She was not only a brilliant nurse, but also played a major part in the suffrage movement. Lavinia was able to support her fellow nurses and American women by helping the implementation of the nineteenth amendment, or the right for women to vote. She believed that women who could take care of the sick were entitled and more than able to vote...and she was right.

Luther Christman was the Chairman of the AAMN (American Association of Men in Nursing). Luther represented men in the field of nursing with strength and vigor. He is considered to be one of the twentieth century's nursing leaders.

Mary Breckenridge was also a very notable Pioneer in Modern Nursing as she was the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. This service provided health care to people who lived in rural communities and did not have easy access to a hospital or health care facility like those in the cities. She is also known to have started one of the first midwifery training schools in the United States.

Margaret Higgins Sanger was arrested in the early twentieth century for opening the first birth control awareness center in Baltimore, MD. She was a public health nurse in New York for many years is considered to be the founder of Planned Parenthood.

All of these women and men held a part in making modern nursing what it is today — a growing, evolving, and ever-improving profession focused on making the world and the people in it a better place. Nurses are not to be frowned upon or looked down on, they are to be respected and honored — as you've seen here. Helping people to get well or even easing in their passing in a holistic approach is the mission of the modern-day nurse...thanks to the Pioneers of Modern Nursing.

Some Inspirational Pics of the History of Modern Nursing



Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on April 23, 2014:

Thanks, Rahel.

Rahel Abraha on November 04, 2012:

Yes thank you kitty, lots of people are complaining in WA about IELTS is unfair and I am one of them for these people English is the second language I beloved they can improve if they do other extra course no one born with education they have learn it!



Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on November 01, 2012:

Rahel - Yes, I absolutely agree and am experiencing that right now. Thanks for your comment.

Rahel Abraha Gebreselassie on October 31, 2012:

Important parts we need more nurses and who ever want to do nursing they should get encourage not discourage them. If they think there is a lack of understanding, they should give them some extra course to build up/ developed their knowledge; instead of them telling them if they are not from here so you need to do IELTS that is unfair. Ideally people should get more encourage to do so, and it should be more practical then theory. Because now a day people more into theory, which is good to know terminology word before practical, i recommended we need more practical than theory.

ceba on February 26, 2012:

owh i really fill jubilant to get this information i appriciate it now i will write myn assignmen7t about that information you gave me thanks aa lot

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on February 12, 2012:

pinto2011 - Very true. It's so funny how people forget about the importance of nurses and teachers nowadays.

Subhas from New Delhi, India on February 11, 2012:

Great way to remind the evolution of one of the most essential and humanly things on earth.

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on February 09, 2012:

Sunnie - Awww, thanks! Nice to meet you. I'm just a student nurse at this point, but I LOVE it already. :)

happyboomernurse - Thanks so much! I'm so happy to see that Mar's suggested it to you. :)

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on February 09, 2012:

I came here on Marcoujor's suggestion and am so glad I did. This hub is well written and very inspiring.

Vote up across the board except for funny.

Sunnie Day on February 08, 2012:

From one fellow nurse to another..wonderful job Kitty..such powerful noble women. Thank you for sharing..many angels walking the earth today in the form of nurses...

Thank you


Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on February 08, 2012:

Mar! You are so sweet. Thank you so much for the encouragement...I couldn't be happier. I am doing wonderfully...just got a 94 on my first theory test and have gotten nothing but As and Bs on my quizzes thus far. One month down...a year and 11 months to go! Thanks again and great hearing from you. I wish you blessings.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on February 07, 2012:


One day I 'dream' of you being on this very beautiful and notable list of remarkable women and men! I am so proud of you!

Voted UP & UABI... I can see your studies are going well, mar.

Kitty Fields (author) from Summerland on February 07, 2012:

pmccray - Thank you so much. Yes, they were and I didn't know it until recently too.

paradise - That is too cool! You should be so proud of your great-aunt, what a wonderful woman! Thanks for sharing. And yes, they were strong.

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on February 06, 2012:

Excellent job, Kitty! I really enjoyed reading this. One of my great-aunts was a nurse to the people in the Appalachian Mountains. She rode a donkey from one isolated cabin to another. She was also a trained midwife. Often, she was the only health-care provider the people ever saw, and many gave her the courtesy title of "Doctor". She's also the only woman I ever saw stand up to my dad.

These women were so strong and capable that it sometimes puts me to shame!

pmccray on February 06, 2012:

Wonderful hub, never knew that Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman performed nursing duties. . what powerful women all. The only thing I knew about nursing was Florence Nightingale. Thank you so much for sharing.