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The 10 most influential female nurses of all time

Nurses impact lives every day. But once in a while, a nurse comes along who touches the lives of the world and not just her patients.

These women went above and beyond for the field of nursing. They served in wars, broke down racial barriers and campaigned for women’s rights. They have become role models for women everywhere, not just nurses. However, nurses can be especially proud to share a title with these ten ladies.

1. Florence Nightingale
2. Margaret Sanger
3. Clara Barton
4. Mary Eliza Mahoney
5. Anna Caroline Maxwell
6. Dorothea Lynde Dix
7. Ellen Dougherty
8. Mabel Keaton Staupers
9. Linda Richards
10. Claire Bertschinger

1. Florence Nightingale


“The Lady with the Lamp” is the quintessential nurse figure. She cared for the poor and distressed and became an advocate for improving medical conditions for everyone. In her early life, Nightingale mentored other nurses, known as Nightingale Probationers, who then went to on also work to create safer, healthier hospitals.

In 1894, Nightingale trained 38 volunteer nurses who served in the Crimean War. These nurses tended to the wounded soldiers and sent reports back regarding the status of the troops. Nightingale and her nurses reformed the hospital so that clean equipment was always available and reorganized patient care. Nightingale soon realized that many of the soldiers were dying because of unsanitary living conditions, and, after the war, she worked to improve living conditions.

While she was at war, the Florence Nightingale Fund for the Training of Nurses was established in her honor. After the war, Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing and opened the Women’s Medical College with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.

International Nurses Day is celebrated on Nightingale’s birthday, May 12, each year.

Next up: Activist, Margaret Sanger…

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11 Responses to The 10 most influential female nurses of all time

  1. sharon parsons

    what an inspiring website! I have been a nurse for 34 years Now I work as an educator for iCU nurses in Bloomington, Indiana. Nice to see the varied reponses and information posted here.

  2. Adele

    Nice to see Ellen Dougherty’s photograph on your site, wonderful lady, I have all her history, and on January 10th, 2010 it will mark the 109th anniversary of her becoming No.1 Registered Nurse in the World, I shall be at her graveside with a bouquet of flowers.. I have seen her medal, No.1..
    Clareville Cemetery Researcher. NZ

  3. Tammy

    This article makes me want to aspire to achieve great things.

  4. I love this post! Sometimes we need to have a quick review of history, so we know where we are heading.

  5. Linda Young

    My personal favorite is Mary Breckinridge-inspiring and courageous!

  6. M Wallace

    Yes, Margaret Sanger was influential,but not for the better.She was a Eugenist and opened the door to a sexual revolution and Planned Parenthood’s slaughter of unborn children.
    “Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”
    — Margaret Sanger. Woman, Morality, and Birth Control . New York: New
    York Publishing Company, 1922. Page 12.
    “There is only one reply to a request for a higher birthrate among the
    intelligent, and that is to ask the government to first take the burden of
    the insane and feeble-minded from your back. [Mandatory] sterilization for
    these is the answer.”
    — Margaret Sanger, October 1926 Birth Control Review .
    “[Slavs, Latin, and Hebrew immigrants are] human weeds … a
    deadweight of human waste … [Blacks, soldiers, and Jews are a] menace to
    the race.”
    “Eugenic sterilization is an urgent need … We must prevent
    Multiplication of this bad stock.”
    — Margaret Sanger, April 1933 Birth Control Review .
    “[Our objective is] unlimited sexual gratification without the burden
    of unwanted children … [Women must have the right] to live … to love
    … to be lazy … to be an unmarried mother … to create … to destroy
    … The marriage bed is the most degenerative influence in the social order
    … The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members
    is to kill it.”
    — Margaret Sanger (editor). The Woman Rebel , Volume I, Number 1.
    Reprinted in Woman and the New Race . New York: Brentanos Publishers,

  7. susan jane smith

    What inspeational ladies working to promote nursing and not giving up inspire us all to succeed

  8. sarah

    You may not agree with Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, but if it weren’t for her, you may not have the right to take your birth control pill and limit the size of your family. I salute all the great women in our nursing past.

  9. Rebecca

    Many do not realize that Margaret Sanger’s passion for reproductive health stemmed from a desire to limit the family sizes of those she believed to be genetically less desirable (minorities.). She was an unabashed eugenist with ideologies similar to Hitler’s. I believe that the technology and pharmacology for family planning would have naturally occurred as a demand by our increasingly technical and industrialized society.

  10. ……you forgot Lillian Wald who founded The Henry Street Visiting Nurses in N.Y. without whom there wouldn’t have been a Public Health Nursing service!

  11. Maggie, RN, CCRN, BSN

    The one biggest thing that ALL of these nurses have in common is that they were willing to PERSONALLY ‘buck the system’ in order to change the status-quo.
    Something that many of us who stand up for doing the right thing are bullied and persecuted for today.
    It is EASY to ‘go with the flow’, but HARD to ‘walk the walk AND talk the talk’.