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Our Heritage
7 Superheroes of Nursing Throughout History
For National Nurses Week, we're taking a look back at the groundbreaking contributions of some of the most important founders of the field—including nursing crusaders who worked at Johnson & Johnson.

Johnson & Johnson has supported nurses since its founding in 1886. In fact, they're mentioned in the very first line of the company Credo, which states, "We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services."

And nurses have worked behind the scenes at Johnson & Johnson from the beginning, performing such crucial duties as overseeing the safety and sterility of surgical products to treating soldiers overseas.

So in homage to National Nurses Week, we're taking our (nurse's) caps off to salute some of the most heroic caregivers throughout history.

1.
The Mother of Modern Nursing: Florence Nightingale
The legendary Nightingale

If you know the name of just one nurse, it’s probably this one. Florence Nightingale cared for soldiers during the Crimean War, and her nightly rounds of the hospital ward earned her the nickname “Lady With the Lamp.”

In 1860, she established the first scientifically based nursing school—the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. Today, nurses worldwide celebrate International Nurses Day on May 12, the day of her birth.

2.
The First American Nurse: Linda Richards
This portrait of Richards hangs at Massachusetts General Hospital By Warren Prosperi and artistic collaborator, Lucia R. Prosperi. Image courtesy of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Linda Richards is widely regarded as the first trained nurse in the U.S.—she was a member of the inaugural class of the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s training school for nurses, which comprised just five students.

Throughout her career, Richards, who was mentored by Florence Nightingale, displayed strong leadership in the field of nursing: She served as superintendent of the Boston Training School, where she encountered physician opposition to the training of nurses; opened Japan’s first nurse training school; and became the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools—the first professional organization for nurses.

3.
The Chief Inspector: Elizabeth W.
A sterile package signed by Elizabeth W.

As head nurse at the end of the 19th century in the Johnson & Johnson Aseptic Department, which contained manufacturing rooms for sterile surgical products, Elizabeth W. was responsible for inspecting each surgical item to ensure it was sterile and sealed. In fact, the labels placed over the inspected containers bore her signature and title of graduate nurse.

This was no minor designation. Johnson & Johnson famously pioneered the safety of surgery, reducing mortality rates through its production of sterile surgical dressings and sutures. And graduate surgical nurses such as Elizabeth W. were at the forefront of the revolution, supervising the aseptic rooms and ensuring that employees scrubbed in properly, like modern surgeons, every time they entered.

4.
The Woman Who Integrated the Field: Mary Eliza Mahoney
Mahoney paved the way for African-American nurses in the U.S. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, American National Red Cross Collection

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African-American woman to complete the course of study necessary to become a professional nurse in the U.S. In fact, she was one of only four out of 42 students to successfully complete the 16-month nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1879.

An original member of the predominantly white Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (later known as the American Nurses Association), Mahoney gave the welcome address at the first conference of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. And in 1920, she was among the first women to register to vote in Boston.

5.
The First Military Nurse: Anna Caroline Maxwell
Maxwell was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery

During the Spanish-American War, Anna Maxwell was sent to work at a field hospital in Georgia, where she discovered subpar sanitation and high death and disease rates, leading her to petition the Surgeon General successfully to send trained nurses to military hospitals.

During World War I, Maxwell again came to soldiers’ aid by helping to prepare nurses for active military service. Afterward, she strove to secure military rank for nurses in the armed forces. Upon her death in 1929, she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery—with full military honors.

6.
The Pioneering U.S. Nurse-Midwife: Mary Carson Breckinridge
An official U.S. postage stamp commemorating Breckinridge

Following the death of both her children at an early age, Mary Breckinridge dedicated her life to improving the health of women and children by becoming a nurse in 1910. While working in France during World War I, she was inspired by British nurse-midwives and earned a midwife certificate herself from the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in London.

In 1925, Breckinridge established the Frontier Nursing Service to provide better healthcare to people living in the impoverished Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Her vision helped to bring the maternal mortality rate in Leslie County from the highest in the country to well below the national average.

Today, the American College of Nurse-Midwives recognizes her as the first to bring nurse-midwifery to the U.S.

7.
The Woman Who Went from Advertising to the Army: Katherine Hannan
A nurse tends to patients during the 1918 flu epidemic, as Hannan did

During World War I, Katherine Hannan became Johnson & Johnson’s first female employee to serve in the military. Although she worked in the advertising department, she was also a trained nurse, so she volunteered as a field nurse for the U.S. Army.

Due to her leadership skills, she was rapidly promoted to head nurse and superintendent of the General Hospital #6 at Fort McPherson in Georgia.

She went on to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces in Siberia in 1918, earning the position of Chief Nurse of the Evacuation Hospital in Vladivostok. Hannan and her team of nurses treated soldiers suffering from the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic and, when the war ended, brought the last contingent of nurses from the hospital in Siberia safely back to the U.S.

Help Support Tomorrow’s Nursing Superheroes!
Get Johnson & Johnson’s free Donate a Photo app, and for every pic you take, the company will donate $1 to nursing scholarships.