Remembering Impactful Nurses

11 Jan, 2024

Today, May 6th is the start of 2022’s Nurses Week. Rewind back in time with Davin Healthcare to show gratitude for those who have impacted the nursing profession. We’ve put together a list of five nurses you should know about and why.

Betty Smith Williams

Dr. Betty Smith Williams is a woman of firsts.

Born the daughter of minority rights activists in 1929, she became the first Black nurse to graduate from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Nursing in 1954. She was hired to teach at UCLA two years later, making her the first Black person to teach at the college level in California.1

Williams went on to co-found the Black Nurses of Los Angeles in 1968 and then the National Black Nurses Association in 1971 (in which she acted as president from 1995 to 1999).2 She also co-founded the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurses, Inc in 1998 and led the organization in the creation of the “NCEMNA: Nurse Scientist Stimulation Program.”3

Williams’ impact is profound, and her work helped change the culture of nursing for the better.

Goldie D. Brangman

Goldie D. Brangman quite literally helped to save a King.

Brangman started her career in healthcare as a volunteer for the Red Cross in 1940. Three years later, she graduated from Harlem Hospital Center’s nursing program and accepted a job at Harlem Hospital. In 1951, she co-founded the Harlem Hospital nurse anesthesia program, which, at the time, was one of the few programs in the country that admitted and educated “blacks, men, or students from foreign countries.”4

In 1958, Izola Ware Curry stabbed Martin Luther King, Jr. with a letter opener. The object stuck between a major artery and his aorta. King was brought to Harlem Hospital, where he went in for life-saving open-heart surgery. Brangman was by his side, physically operating the breathing bag that helped keep alive Martin Luther King, Jr.5 “You bagged them in those days,” she said. “You could sense changes like compliance that way. You had your hand on the patient the entire time.” The surgery saved King’s life, and he went on to make a full recovery.6

Brangman continued her career for another 30 years. During that time, she became the director of the Harlem Hospital’s School of Anesthesia (the same one she co-founded in 1951). She also served as president of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, of which she was the first Black person to hold the role. In 1987, she retired from the nursing field but didn’t stop helping. She went back to volunteering with the Red Cross and, in 1992, worked in a shelter for victims of Hurricane Omar and Hurricane Iniki.4

She passed away in 2020 at the age of 102 but will be remembered for her legacy in the field of nursing.4

Clara Barton

Clara Barton is remembered as an angel, the Angel of the Battlefield.

Born in 1821, Barton worked first as a teacher and then at the U.S. Patent Office (becoming one of the first women to work in the federal government). When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, she didn’t sit idly by.7 When victims of the Baltimore Riot were transported to D.C., she went to the railroad station to care for the injured.8 She is said to have nursed 40 men from the 6th Massachusetts Militia.9

She continued to care for injured soldiers brought to D.C. until 1862, when she received special permission to bring supplies to the front lines. She tended to the wounded in every major battle of the Civil War that erupted in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, at times mending wounds while bullets nearly missed her. Even without formal nursing training, in 1864, she was officially named the head nurse for one of the units.9 After the war, with special permission from President Abraham Lincoln, she opened the Office of Missing Soldiers and identified over 20,000 missing soldiers.7  

Her next significant social impact started on a trip to Switzerland in 1869. She learned about the Red Cross movement and volunteered for the International Committee of the Red Cross. She took what she learned and brought it back to the United States, where she founded the American Red Cross in 1881 and served as president for 23 years before retiring in 1904 at the age of 83.7

The American Red Cross is still in service today.

Edward Lyon

2nd Lt Edward Lyon was a man who marched to his own beat.

When Edward Lyon was born in 1927,10 the Army Nurse Corps had already been running for 26 years. During this time and in Lyon’s youth, only women were allowed to be part of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.11 Any male nurses in the armed forces were relegated to working as orderlies or pharmacy techs.12

The situation changed drastically in 1955. Adding to the already 3500 female nurses working for the U.S. Army Corps was a single man, a nurse anesthetist by the name of Edward Lyon.13 His commission opened the doors for other fully qualified male nurses to join the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Today, more than 35% of U.S. Military nurses are men.14

Luther Christman

Luther Christman was a determined man.

Born in 1915, Luther Christman faced a lot of rejection and adversity during the beginning of his career. Two nursing programs denied him entry because of his gender14. He eventually earned his diploma from the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for Men in 1939. Since Lyons historical commission wouldn’t take place for another decade and a half, Christman was rejected from the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during WW2 and instead served as a pharmacist for the U.S. Maritime Service.15

Christman didn’t let adversity stand in his way. He earned numerous degrees and won many honors during his life15. In addition, he advocated for gender and racial diversity in the nursing field and founded the National Male Nurse Association in 1974 (now known as the American Association for Men in Nursing).16

Perhaps one of his most outstanding achievements, in 1972, Christman served as the first dean of the Rush University College of Nursing. During his time there, he implemented his plan for nursing, which is now known as the Rush Model for Nursing.17 This model is the unification of clinical practice with nursing education.18

Through his practice and advocation, the field of nursing is better for all nurses and patients today.

Now that we’ve looked back in history, it’s time to reflect on the importance of the profession and the impact it has had on patient experience and quality of care.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as we celebrate nurses throughout this week and beyond.


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