Five Historic Nurses Of Importance For National Nurses Day
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Five Historic Nurses Of Importance For National Nurses Day

On 12 May National Nurses Day was celebrated across the world to honour their services towards humanity.  The date was chosen as it is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth; someone who is often regarded as the first professional nurse.  In honour of the significant date, I have discussed the contribution to nursing of five outstanding women within this article.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton was an American nurse who founded the American Red Cross On May 21, 1881. In 1882, the U.S. ratified the Geneva Conventions. This change resulted in a U.S. congressional charter, officially recognising Red Cross services. Clara Barton served as Red Cross president for 23 years, and retired from the role in 1904.

She was originally a teacher who decided to turn towards bringing supplies to the battlefields during the American Civil War. This decision would gain her the name Angel of the Battlefield. Since nursing education was not then very formalised, and due to the fact that she didn’t attend nursing school, she instead provided self-taught nursing care.

Grace Margret Wilson

Following the outbreak of the first world war, Grace Wilson joined the Australian Army Nursing Service and was appointed principal matron of the first military district. In 1915 she travelled overseas as principal matron of the 3rd Australian general hospital to Egypt, Lemnos and France. On 1 January 1916, she was recommended for the Royal Red Cross, First Class for ‘distinguished service in the field’. This award was presented to her on 2 May 1916. She was also awarded three named mentions in Despatches in 1916 on 5 May, 21 June and 13 July for her service with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. She then became temporary Matron-in-chief for the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in London in September 1917 where she would remain there until April 1918 where after she would return to 3 Australian general hospital for the rest of WW1.  

Grace Wilson was discharged from the army on 4 April 1920 and would then become matron of the Children’s Hospital, Melbourne from November 1920.  She became matron-in-chief of the army nursing reserve in August 1925. Grace Wilson was Awarded the Florence Nightingale medal in 1929.

Elizabeth Grace Neill

Elizabeth Grace Neill was instrumental in getting laws passed requiring training and national registration of nurses and midwives in New Zealand.  She trained as a nurse at King’s College and Charing Cross hospitals in London, after which she moved to Queensland to follow her husband Channing Neil who had set up a medical practice. After the death of her husband in 1890 she became involved in organising a union for women workers. She also joined an investigation into charitable aid and was appointed “official visitor” to the Porirua and Mount View Lunatic Asylums in 1893. In 1895, she became deputy inspector of lunatic asylums, hospitals, licensed houses and charitable institutions. She believed strongly that the nursing profession and the public deserved a higher standard of nursing care as a result Grace Neill lobbied for a bill establishing national exams and registration for nurses.

This bill became the New Zealand Nurses’ Registration Act 1901. Grace Neil also became responsible for developing the training curriculum and appointing the examiners. She then promoted for separate legislature to register midwives, which was passed in 1904 and then created a curriculum and established state maternity training hospitals due to a lack of suitable options.

Cicely Saunders

Cicely Saunders is credited with introducing the idea of “total pain” through which she gave equal importance to physical, emotional, social and spiritual distress. During her tenure as a research fellow at St. Mary’s Paddington, she campaigned to make the practice of administering drugs on a regular basis to those patients who were suffering from constant pain standard practice. She argued that regular administration of medicines such as morphine can solve the addiction problem by enabling them to receive lower doses of these medicines.

Cicely Saunders was also the founder of St. Christopher’s hospice which aims to take care of terminally ill patients. She demonstrated that pain can be controlled by compassionate care and love through the establishment of the hospice. The Sr Christopher’s hospice  is the first in the history of medicine to combine teaching and clinical research. Cicely Saunders also wrote a book on her finding called “Care Of The Dying” and co-edited “The Management Of Terminal Disease”.

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. She worked at the England Hospital for Women and Children for 15 years as a janitor, cook, and washer women. She also had the opportunity to work as a nurse’s aide, which allowed her to learn a substantial about the nursing profession. In 1878, at the age of 33, Mary Mahoney was admitted to the hospital’s professional graduate school for nursing, which was 16 months long and one of the first nursing schools in the US.  Only four women completed the course and Mary Mahoney was one of them. 

After training due to discrimination in public health she decided to pursue a career as a private, her patients were mostly from wealthy white families. She was an active participant in the nursing profession. In 1896, she joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC). In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and in 1909 at the NACGN’s first national convention, she gave the opening speech.  There members elected Mary Mahoney to be the national chaplain and gave her a life membership.  Mahoney became the director of the Howard Orphanage Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island in New York City, serving as the director from 1911 until 1912.

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Hi my name is Charis, I am a MA History of Warfare student at University of Birmingham. I have always enjoyed writing and I enjoy researching and writing about history, life, television, film and culture. I also enjoy new opportunities.