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Pioneers of Nursing

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Florence Nightingale
Founder of modern nursing
(1820 - 1910)

Biography by Lexie Van Den Heuvel

Article by Victoria Sweet

Florence Nightingale

Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu

(1947 - )

Researcher on the care of sickle cell patients, and leader against racism in nursing and health care

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

(1821 - 1912)

Battlefield nurse. Founder of the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton

Mary Breckinridge

(1881 - 1965)

Founded the Frontier Nursing Service--bringing midwifery and infant health care to rural areas.

Mary Breckinridge

Dorothea Dix

(1802 - 1887)

Early nursing pioneer who revolutionized health care for the mentally ill.

Dorothea Dix

Lystra Gretter

(1858 - 1951)

Promoted nursing as a respectable profession, shifted the model of nursing education from a one-year apprenticeship to a three-year academic pursuit, created nurse-run hospital wards, cut the work day to 8-hour shifts, wrote the first standardized textbook for nursing education, established an early visiting nurses association and created one of the first professional nursing libraries.

Lystra Gretter

Lydia Hall

(1906 - 1969)

Pioneer in nursing autonomy and nurse-driven care.

Lydia Hall

Florence Wald

(1917 -  2008)

Pioneer in improving the care of dying patients by managing symptoms, including patient and family in all decisions, and maintaining dignity and the highest quality of life as the developmental task of saying good-bye was addressed.

Florence Wald

Nursing leaders who we have covered in our analyses of their obituaries:

Joyce Hoyt Clifford

(1935 - 2011)

Pioneered the application of the primary nursing care model and led nursing care at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital for 25 years.

Joyce Hoyt Clifford

Vernice Doris Ferguson

(1928 - 2012)

Fought for greater respect and opportunities for nurses -- Long-serving chief nursing officer for the Veterans Administration.

Vernice D. Ferguson

Elizabeth Kenny


Polio rehabilitation pioneer

Also see a New York Times review on a book about her work

Elizabeth Kenny

Madden Styles

(1930 - 2005)

Nursing educator, worked to establish precise national standards to certify nurses in various specialties.

Margretta Madden Styles

Margaret Sanger


Advocate for women's autonomy in childbirth

Margaret Sanger

Scanlan Trump

(1934/35 -  2012)

The first trauma nurse, co-founded University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center.

Elizabeth Scanlan Trump
See video and written interviews of 34 nurses who pioneered the field of nursing informatics at the American Medical Informatics Association website.


All of our biographies are written by volunteers. If you would like to submit a nursing pioneer biography for us to consider posting, please contact us at We are especially seeking biographies of nurses who are indigenous or people of color. Thank you.

Also see:

American Nurses' Hall of Fame

American Association for the History of Nursing


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