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Heroes for Our Age: Celebrating Nurses

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“Atlantic City Red Cross Nurses Ready to ‘Do Their Bit.'”  Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, PA), July 3, 1917.

As COVID-19 changes our world, we rely on our medical community to care for us and our loved ones more than ever. But their names rarely make the headlines despite their tireless efforts and personal risk. So in honor of National Nurses Week, we are dedicating this issue to all of those nurses who are serving around the world.  As we look back at some of the nurses who did make headlines, we thank all of you working today who do not.

“Florence Nightingale, the Angel of Wars.” The Sun (New York, NY), May 19, 1918.

Florence Nightingale

Known as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale gained fame when she went to assist British soldiers in the Crimean War in 1854. Called an angel and the “Lady with a Lamp” for the lives that she saved, she organized and trained nurses, instituted strict sanitary measures, and then proved that these things worked through statistical analysis. Her intellect was formidable and her devotion to healthcare and social reform admirable.

Mary Seacole

Though Seacole also provided medical aid to troops in the Crimean War, she is not as well-known as Nightingale. Not allowed to become an official nurse due to her race, Seacole used her own funds to provide natural remedies, food, and first aid on the battlefield to soldiers on both sides. “She is often seen riding out to the front with baskets of medicines of her own preparation, and this is particularly the case after an engagement with the enemy,” noted newspapers at the time.

“St. Elizabeth’s Has Notable History.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 4, 1934.

Dorothea Dix

Dix is best known for her fights to reform the treatment of the mentally ill in institutions and prisons across the country. From numerous state institutions to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., she insured that institutions were created and maintained to provide assistance and dignity to those who needed it. Her humanity and compassion brought her praise from newspapers across the nation.


Clara Barton

Barton is known not only for her bravery bringing supplies to battlefields during the Civil War, but for founding the American Red Cross in 1881. Barton tirelessly continued her work bringing aid during disasters in the United States and around the world for another 30 years.

Mary Breckinridge

Mary Breckinridge brought nursing and healthcare to rural Kentucky and surrounding areas. Her “Frontier Nursing Service” focused on improving the health of women and children, training nurses and midwives around the region. Breckinridge began “on horseback, covering more than 800 miles of rough mountain country,” and the Frontier Nursing Service continues to this day.

“Carrying Aid to Isolated Communities.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), April 15, 1928.

Mabel Staupers

Staupers fought to end racial prejudice in the field of nursing. When World War II began, she was already a well experienced nurse and as the executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses she pushed for the U.S. Army Nurses Corps to integrate and continued to push for them to recruit African American nurses.

“Lillian Smith Award 36th Spingarn Medal to Mabel K. Staupers.” Jackson Advocate (Jackson, MS), July 7, 1951. 

You can find many more examples of stories about heroic nurses in our historic newspaper collections including Chronicling America.* Do you have a story that you would like to tell about a nurse who affected your life? Please tell us in the comments.

Additional Resources

WWI, American Red Cross: Topics in Chronicling America
Topics in Chronicling America – Clara Barton 

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


  1. Our immense gratitude and admirations to and for the Doctors, Nurses and Healthcare professionals during the outbreak of the corona virus pathogen pandemic.

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