The History of Nursing: Who Is Linda Richards?

As a caretaker of spouses, families, children, and the community, nursing as a female profession made sense. Did you know nursing is one of the oldest recognized professions? Many nurses in history received payment for their services from the very beginning. This fact was especially true of wet nurses, who took over the responsibility of nursing a baby when the mother passed away or could not nurse her baby for health reasons.

Nursing is not a profession someone does on a whim or because they need money. You become a nurse because you are passionate about providing care for people. The question is – how much of the history of the profession you are so passionate about do you know? For example, do you have any idea whom the first American professional nurse was?

Linda Richards: The Pioneer of Professional Nursing

Linda Richards is the woman who spearheaded the creation and growth of the nursing profession in not one, but two, different nations. In addition to being the first American professional nurse, she also trained the very first Japanese nurses. She even created a lot of nursing innovations you likely take advantage of, including written patient charts.

The Born Nurses

A large chunk of nursing duties fell to the responsibility of a family member. Those nursing duties that required outside assistance fell to what people referred to as born nurses. Born nurses were women gifted with patience and a sympathetic nature. While Richards believed, at her core, a nurse needed both a sympathetic nature and patience, she also saw the significance of formal training. Richards started to train as a nurse during her teenage years, as she assisted the local physician while he treated her mother, who had tuberculosis. Richards also provided care to her fiancé after he suffered severe injuries during the Civil War. She continued to provide care for her fiancé until he passed away four years after the war ended in 1869.

Many believe it was the personal loss of her mother and her fiancé that fueled Richards’ desire to go above and beyond with a nursing profession.

Written Patient Records

As challenging as the job of a nurse is today, it was even more difficult for someone during the 1800s. Nurses worked up to 16 hours at a time and remained on call 24 hours a day. A nurse cleaned and did laundry while providing care for her patient. A lot of nurses knew next to nothing about medications or symptoms. A lot of physicians saw nurses as nothing more than maids. Horrified by this realization, Richards did what she could to help change things.

Another brilliant realization on Richards’ part involved noting most reports between a nurse and a physician were completely verbal. This resulted in a lot of confusion and a lot of mistakes. When she started working at New York’s Bellevue Hospital Training School, she introduced writing reports. One physician appreciated the written patient reports and records so much that he advocated for it to be a standard practice in the industry. Thus, written patience records spread across the U.S. and into Europe.

According to “Reminiscences of Linda Richards: America’s First Trained Nurse,” Linda described her training as time consuming with little sleep and no time for recreational activities.

“We rose at 5.30 a.m. and left the wards at 9 p.m. to go to our beds, which were in little rooms between the wards. Each nurse took care of her ward of six patients both day and night. Many a time I got up nine times in the night; often I did not get to sleep before the next call came. We had no evenings out, and no hours for study or recreation. Every second week we were off duty one afternoon from two to five o’clock. No monthly allowance was given for three months.”

The practices and programs Richards developed continued long after she retired and passed away. This is a woman who successfully convinced several skeptical hospital administrators that nurses needed formal education to provide proper care to patients. Richards received an induction into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976, as well as the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. While Linda passed away at the age of 88 on April 16, 1930, her legacy and passion for nursing live on.

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