The nursing profession has progressed in many ways over the years. Here are nine notable nurses who helped the position ascend to new levels of respect and leadership.

Florence Nightingale

1820 to 1920

Florence Nightingale is known as the founder of modern nursing. The legendary nurse lived to be 100 years old and introduced sanitation protocols in hospitals where the mortality rate was seven times higher than the battlefield. With Nightingale’s efforts, mortality rates in hospitals reduced by more than half.

Dorothea Dix

1802 to 1887

While Dorothea Dix was a fine nurse, it was her efforts in lobbying for the mentally ill that earn her place in nursing history. She fought with legislators and while she didn’t begin to see an asylum take form until the end of her life, the benefits of her efforts still care for the mentally ill today.

Mary Eliza Mahoney

1845 to 1926

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American Registered Nurse. She worked as a cook, laundress and janitor for 15 years before finally being admitted into the nursing program at New England Hospital for Women and Children.

Anna Caroline Maxwell

1851 to 1929

The founder of the Army Nurse Corps, Anna Caroline Maxwell began her training at Boston City Hospital. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, Congress recognized the value of nurses in the military, which was influenced greatly by her efforts and created the Army Nurse Corps.

Clara Barton

1821 to 1912

Clara Barton

Clara Barton (Library of Congress photo)

Ever wonder how the American Red Cross all began? The answer is Clara Barton. She also established the National First Aid Society of America.

Margaret Sanger

1879 to 1966

Founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger wrote about education and women’s health, aspiring to spread a message focused on women’s rights.

Mabel Keaton Staupers

1890 to 1989

Instrumental in ending racial prejudice in nursing, Mabel Keaton Staupers and is marked as responsible for fully integrating black nurses into the nursing profession.

Virginia Avenel Henderson

1897 to 1996

Probably one of the most notable nurses of the 20th century, Virginia Avenel Henderson developed and established Modern Nursing Theory and clearly defined nursing roles in primary health care.

Hazel Johnson-Brown


Hazel Johnson-Brown is noted for being both the first black general in the U.S. Army and the first black Chief of Army Nurse Corps.