Request Info

Important Nursing Leaders You May Have Never Heard Of

Learn about some of the most important nurses in history

One of the best ways to appreciate the wonderful advancements that have brought us so far in the nursing field is to look back at the nursing trailblazers that made today’s achievements possible. Visionary nurses like Florence Nightingale may get a lot of the airtime – and understandably so – when it comes to studying the people in history that changed the course of the healthcare field. But here are five more nursing leaders whose contributions also made serious strides for nursing and medicine as a whole.

Barbara Lumpkin (b. 1937)

Barbara Lumpkin’s contributions to the nursing field came in the form of legislative moves aimed to help nurse practitioners and physician assistants give prescriptions in her own state of Florida. The Barbara Lumpkin Prescribing Act will go into effect in early 2017, named for the nurse who spent over two decades lobbying for the change she knew would empower nurses and bring better care to patients — especially patients in rural areas with limited financial resources to get the care they need.

After graduating from nursing school in 1958, Lumpkin practiced as a nurse for 16 years before joining the Florida Nurses Association and pursuing the policy work that led to the passing of this bill.

Clara Barton (b. 1821)

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red CrossClara Barton is best known for founding the American branch of the Red Cross, but her story prior to the ARC is a great example of the way nurses are always working to make the world a better place for those in need. Barton became a teacher at age 17. She helped children of low-income workers get an education, and also paved the way for women by demanding equal pay. She went on to found and run a large free school and later earn equal pay in the government at the U.S. Patent Office. Both times, Barton was demoted when her male counterparts saw her roles as being unfit for women.

Fortunately, that didn’t stop her. She earned the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield” during the Civil War for her efforts to bring medical supplies to soldiers on the front lines and implementing a program to find missing soldiers. After the war, she became part of women’s suffrage and other civil rights movements before bringing the Red Cross to America.


Related Resource: How to Spot a Nurse: 5 Ways Nursing Translates to Daily Life

Luther Christman (b. 1915)

Luther Christman was a nurse who made big changes as an educator and administrator in the nursing field. He made a name for himself as a champion of racial and gender diversity in nursing, and he was also the first male dean of a nursing school. Christman eventually founded the American Association for Men in Nursing, which serves as a resource for men interested in breaking into a field largely associated with women.

While working as the dean at Rush University College of Nursing in the 1970s, Christman helped create and implement the Rush Model of Nursing. This model emphasizes the commingling of education and practice for nursing schools. It meant that more educators were practicing clinicians themselves, which transformed the way nurses chart their path from coursework to career.

Anna Caroline Maxwell (b. 1851)

Anna Caroline Maxwell is known for making field hospitals during times of war much more conducive to the health of wounded patients, particularly in the Spanish-American war. Her achievements were so impactful, in fact, that she’s the reason nurses started gaining recognition within the military. Although her efforts had already helped the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps back in 1901, Maxwell’s work also led to the decision to give nurses military rank. She even helped design the uniforms for American army nurses.

Another of Maxwell’s military nursing accomplishments was training new nurses headed to serve the country in World War 1. Even after retirement, she dedicated her time to bettering the nursing profession in terms of education, standardization, and facility quality. This made her peers look to her as a valuable nursing leader. Upon her death, Maxwell was the first woman to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honor.

Related Resource: A History Lesson in Nursing Uniforms

Mary Eliza Mahoney (b. 1845)

Mary Eliza MahoneyAs the first African-American registered nurse in the United States, Mary Eliza Mahoney played an important role in paving the way for nurses of color to join the profession. Mahoney worked at a hospital for 15 years before she was accepted to nursing school — eventually graduating in 1879. She went on to become the director of the Howard Orphan Asylum through the end of her career.

She was one of the first members of the American Nurses Association, which honors her memory by awarding the annual Mary Mahoney award to a nurse or group of nurses making contributions to achieve greater racial equality in the medical field. She also made waves as the first woman to register to vote in Boston shortly after the women’s suffrage movement.

Peggy Anderson (b. 1938)

Peggy Anderson is a unique nursing leader in that she was never a nurse at all! A Peace Corps volunteer and successful journalist, Anderson wrote “Nurse: The True Story of Mary Benjamin, R.N.,” the best-selling 1978 book chronicling the daily life of nurses. The daughter of a nurse herself, Anderson didn’t appreciate many of the cultural portrayals of nurses she saw in movies and television.

Setting out to prove that nursing is a challenging and rewarding calling that requires immense skill, she found a working nurse to interview about her profession. The book became so popular that it was turned into a 1981 television series, called “Nurse.”

Related Resource: Becoming a Registered Nurse: The Steps You’ll Take and Requirements You’ll Need

Who are the nursing leaders that motivate you to make great contributions to the medical field? We’d love to hear from you! Visit our Facebook page and let us know who inspires you to reach your goals.

Are you an aspiring nurse who wants to make your mark on the profession? Jump over to our nursing and RN-BSN program pages to see how we may help you achieve your career and personal goals!

Important Nursing Leaders You May Have Never Heard Of