International Nurses Day is marked on 12 May every year to celebrate the contributions to society and medical care made by nurses around the world. The date was chosen as Florence Nightingale's anniversary of birth – to celebrate the 'lady with the lamp' who nursed wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, and whose progressive ideas and reforms influenced the nature of modern-day nursing.
English nurse, hospital reformer and philanthropist Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) circa 1858
Mitchison (1897-1999) was a Scottish novelist and poet. By the summer of 1915, she had passed her nursing exams and later joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Mitchison was an outspoken feminist, particularly regarding her campaigns for birth control. Her work We Have Been Warned (1935) is regarded as her most controversial due to its explicit sexuality.
Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926) was the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. She was a co-founder of the National Association of Coloured Graduate Nurses, which later became the American Nurses Association.
American nurse, social reformer and founder of the birth control movement Margaret Sanger (1883-1966). She popularised the term 'birth control', opened the first birth-control clinic in the US and established organisations that evolved into what is now known as Planned Parenthood
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Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was the first African-American to write memoirs about her wartime experiences. As an army nurse, she cared for black Union soldiers during the Civil War. She later went on to educate former slaves in Georgia.
American Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887) created the first mental healthcare system in the United States. During the US civil war, she served as superintendent of the Union Army Nurses.
Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a Jamaican-born nurse who helped soldiers during the Crimean War, spending her own money to travel to Crimea to help treat wounded soldiers after being passed over by Florence Nightingale. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, gives an insight into the challenges she faced in British society due to her mixed racial heritage.
On 12 October 1915, British nurse Edith Cavell was executed by firing squad by the German army for helping Allied soldiers escape home from occupied Belgium. Her death sparked outrage in Britain and she became renowned as a martyr for saving lives, while her story became a focus of propaganda to drive up numbers of volunteers joining the British Army.
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Linda Richards (1841-1930) was the first professionally trained American nurse. She created the first system for keeping individual medical records of patients in hospital.
Claire Bertschinger worked as an ICRC field nurse in Ethiopia and ran a feeding centre during the famine of 1984. Reporting on her work inspired Bob Geldof to launch Band Aid and later, Live Aid, the largest relief programme ever launched.
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was born into slavery and used a network of antislavery activists and safe houses known at the Underground Railroad to help rescue enslaved family and friends. She was also a nurse who served the Union Army. In 1908, she also created the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, which specialised in caring for elderly African Americans.
Clara Barton (1821-1912) was the founder of the American Red Cross. She worked as a hospital nurse in the American Civil War and is noted for her humanitarian work when relatively few women worked outside the home.
James E Purdy