JAANUU » Twelve Famous Nurses From History to Know All About!

Twelve Famous Nurses From History to Know All About!

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When it comes to the perks of pursuing a career in nursing, fame isn’t probably the first thing that comes to mind.

But the truth is, throughout history, many famous nurses have influenced the field, paving the way for all of us who work as medical professionals today. We can’t overlook how much they affected the well-being and lives of their patients. 

Nevertheless, we have to say, compiling a list of the most famous nurses in history isn’t exactly the easiest task. After all, inspirational nurses (like you!) are seemingly everywhere you turn. If you’re a nurse, you surely work alongside a colleague who inspires you, and whether you’re aware of it or not, chances are likely that you’re a role model to your workmates. 

As far as we’re concerned, you’re all superstars, and your work is incomparable (not to mention worthy of recognition) regardless of whether or not you’re in the history books. In our book, you’re already a legend.

Read on to learn more about some of the most influential and famous nurses from history, and discover how these women changed the course of nursing—and the world—forever.

Twelve of the most influential nurses in history


Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)

Dorothea Dix fought for the rights of the mentally ill after witnessing the shameful state of jails and almshouses. She worked to gain more humane conditions and funding for patients with mental illnesses by lobbying state legislatures. If you’re a nurse, you know a thing or two about advocacy, so you understand just how difficult this work is (and how valuable). 

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Mary Seacole was an unofficial nurse during the Crimean War who, in addition to braving the travesties of war, personally endured racism. This unstoppable woman funded her trip to Crimea and worked on the ground to treat British soldiers. Seacole also earned medals for her work, and while that may not be a common practice these days, we hope that you are feeling the love from your patients and peers for all of your brave work. She is an example of the selflessness that we still see today in contemporary hospitals from medical professionals like you.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) 

Florence Nightingale, known as the founder of modern nursing, earned her fame for organizing nurses during the Crimean War and later established the world’s first secular, science-centered nursing school. 

As if being the founder of nursing wasn’t enough, Nightingale earned a reputation for being extremely passionate about the nursing profession, viewing her career as a calling. If you’re a medical professional, we know you can relate. 


Clara Barton  (1821-1912)

Despite having no formal training, Clara Barton has gone down in the history of nursing as one of the most influential nurses of all time, thanks to her advocacy work as an abolitionist and suffragette. Before founding the American Red Cross, she took care of injured soldiers on the Civil War front lines, long before the invention of medical scrubs or even antibacterial gel. As nurses, we know you understand what it’s like to jump to action in a moment of need and proverbially “get your hands dirty.”

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926) 

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American registered nurse. Before achieving this dream, she worked many related jobs before admission into nursing school. And by getting accepted into school, she changed the course of history. After Mahoney’s success, other Black students began attending nursing programs.

Mahoney lived out her life advocating for Black nurses and anti-racist practices in the field. An inspiration for all African-American nurses, she was nothing short of a changemaker who paved the way for countless hospital heroes after her. 

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912)

Susie King Taylor was the first African-American U.S. Army Nurse during the Civil War. The child of enslaved people, Taylor fled during the war and was taken in by Union soldiers. She then became a nurse and tended to the wounded. She later became the first Black woman to self-publish a memoir, which detailed her work on the ground. Taylor was nothing short of an inspiration, just like the essential workers of the recent pandemic

Mabel Keaton Staupers (1890-1989)

The nursing field has historically been no stranger to racism and prejudice. Mabel Keaton Staupers fought to end it by working during the Great Depression to integrate Black nurses into environments where they were once not welcome. She continued her advocacy work later by forming coalitions that supported Black nurses. Staupers provides an important lesson on endurance and perseverance that healthcare professionals can still undeniably benefit from today.

Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965)

Mary Breckinridge earned her fame by establishing midwifery services and going into under-resourced, rural communities to provide medical care as part of her Frontier Nursing Service. Through her efforts, she significantly reduced maternal and neonatal mortality rates. How can this historical nursing leader still influence medical professionals today? Her work serves as a reminder of the importance of looking out for underserved and marginalized populations. 

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) 

Margaret Sanger is primarily known for her work as one of the first nurses to advocate for women’s birth control rights. Moved by her work in the tenements in New York and the number of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies that she saw, she fought to normalize the use of contraceptives and established many organizations that later became Planned Parenthood.

She was considered a radical, but she pressed on with influential writings and lobbying work on the subject. We can all take some inspiration from Sanger, who went against the odds to become a public health hero—something that many of today’s courageous medical professionals will have to do in their careers.


Virginia Avenel Henderson (1897-1996) 

Virginia Avenel Henderson can be found on almost every list of famous nurses. Why? She developed nursing theory, explaining the role of a nurse and the importance of comprehensive and palliative care. Institutions continue to use her written works as educational texts. A lesson from Henderson is never to stop sharing knowledge and always continue learning. 

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown (1927-2011) 

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown fought against racism to get her nursing degree after being rejected from her local school. She went on to triumph in her nursing career, becoming the first Black woman director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing and brigadier general in the Army Nurse Corps. Johnson-Brown was a trailblazer, a woman worth looking up to and keeping in mind when you’re having a challenging day at work. 

Goldie D. Brangman (1920-2020)

Goldie D. Brangman co-founded the School of Nurse Anesthesia at Harlem Hospital and solidified her fame by forming part of the team that kept Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after an assassination attempt in 1958. She is a reminder of the fact that medical professionals are literal lifesavers. No matter how busy a day you’re having at the hospital, take a second to remind yourself of this impressive fact.

 And there you have it: 12 nurses—all women and many Black women—whose courageous efforts undeniably earned them their spots in the history books. We hope to see you among those pages one day, too, and as you write the important story of your career, we’ll be there to support you with comfortable scrubs. Plus, we’ve got your back with articles like this to keep you inspired or provide the perfect topic of conversation for the break room.

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