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History of professional nursing

Posted on May 2021 By Jamie Southwell

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Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS, visiting the first ever patient treated at Trafford General Hospital, Manchester, pictured above​​

​Nursing as we all know it today in healthcare dates back to the mid-1800s with Florence Nightingale being the founder of modern nursing however, she was not alone in pushing the profession to its now widely accepted role.

As part of our International Nurses Week celebration, we are honouring and paying homage to those who were prominent in paving the way for professional nursing.

Listed beneath in order of the date each nurse was born.

Mary Seacole, 1805 – 1881

A British-Jamaican nurse who, similar to Florence Nightingale, helped wounded soldiers during the Crimea War. Mary originally was declined when applying to assist in the war among the nursing contingent, but she travelled there independently to help out of her own accord. Setting up a makeshift ‘hotel” where those hurt on the battlefield could come for healing.

Florence Nightingale, 1820 – 1910

Regarded as the most well-known nurse of all time, she became a nurse in 1851 against the decision of her family, who wanted her to be an obedient wife. At the time, the profession of nursing held a reputation as being a career for poor women. Florence Nightingale tended to British soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War, known as "The Lady with the Lamp" when making rounds to the wounded soldiers at night. Founding her own nursing school in 1860 at St Thomas’ Hospital and paving the way for future generations to come.

Clara Barton, 1821 – 1912

She was known as America’s “Angel of the Battlefield”, being a nurse during the American Civil War and tending to the wounded on the battlefield. Clara Barton was upset over the lack of apparent medical supplies available to wounded soldiers. Before her death, she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and led the organization until 1904.

Linda Richards, 1841 – 1930

Linda Richards was the first-ever professionally trained American nurse, developing the original system for keeping individual medical records for hospitalised patients that are still used to date. She was the superintendent at the Boston Training School for Nurses in 1874 and established nursing training programmes in the United States and Japan.

Eva Luckes, 1854 – 1919

Appointed Matron of the London Hospital at just 26 years old, with only four years experience as a nurse. Eva Luckes took the role when the London Hospital, located in Whitechapel, was at its largest and busiest being the only general hospital to serve the east end of London. With 600 beds and 128 nursing staff, she was able to address and develop new training for nurses that introduced two years of practical and theoretical training alongside time spent in wards.

Edith Cavell, 1865 – 1915

Most known and celebrated for assisting both sides of soldiers without discrimination during the First World War. Edith Cavell was a British nurse who saved over 200 allied soldiers by helping them escape Belgium during the German occupation however, it would get her killed when found out and sentenced to death. The worldwide coverage made her into one of the most honourable figures of the war, not only in Britain but across the world.

We hope you had a great International Nurses Day this year, thank you for everything you do.