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Nurses and Midwives

Image right A recruiting poster for Australian nurses from World War I.

Please add your ancestors to this project. Profiles must be set to public. This is an international project.


Nursing is a profession within the health care sector focused on the care of individuals, families, and communities so they may attain, maintain, or recover optimal health and quality of life.

Nursing practice varies through its various specialties and countries.

"Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups and communities, sick or well and in all settings. Nursing includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness, and the care of ill, disabled and dying people. Advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and in patient and health systems management, and education are also key nursing roles.

International Council of Nurses

Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities; prevention of illness and injury; alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human responses; and advocacy in health care for individuals, families, communities, and populations.

American Nurses Association


A midwife is a professional in obstetrics, providing care to women during pregnancy and birth. The term is used in reference to both women and men, although most midwives are female.
Reading history on a midwife: Martha Ballard's Diary. She was a midwife who began a diary January 1, 1785. She was 50 years old. She wrote every day for over 20 years. The diaries are intact an kept in the family. It is kept at the Maine State Library. Source:

Early Nurses - 19th Century

Other important nurses in the development of the profession include:

  • Saint Marianne Cope, a Sister of St Francis who opened and operated some of the first general hospitals in the United States, instituting cleanliness standards which influenced the development of America's modern hospital system.
  • Dame Agnes Hunt from Shropshire was the first orthopaedic nurse and was pivotal in the emergence of the orthopaedic hospital The Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire.
  • Clarissa Harlowe "Clara" Barton, a pioneer American teacher, patent clerk, nurse, and humanitarian, and the founder of the American Red Cross.
  • Agnes Elizabeth Jones and Linda Richards, who established quality nursing schools in the USA and Japan; Linda Richards was officially America's first professionally trained nurse, graduating in 1873 from the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston
  • Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, OM, DBE, FRCS, FRCP, FRCN (22 June 1918 – 14 July 2005) was an English Anglican nurse, social worker, physician and writer, involved with many international universities. She is best known for her role in the birth of the hospice movement, emphasising the importance of palliative care in modern medicine.
  • Linda Richards - was born on July 27, 1841, the youngest daughter of Sanford Richards, an itinerant preacher, and his wife, Betsy Sinclair Richards. Her parents were married in Newport, Vermont in the mid-1830s and moved to a farm near the Racquette River in West Potsdam, NY. Linda was christened Malinda Ann Jusdon Richards by her father in hopes she would someday be a missionary like Ann Judson Hasseltine.

When Linda was four the family moved west to the Wisconsin territory where her father had purchased land in what is now Watertown, WI. He died six weeks after the family arrived from a lung hemorrhage. Mrs. Richards and her three daughters returned to Newbury, VT where they lived with Linda's grandfather until they bought a small farm in the area. Linda's mother became ill with tuberculosis, the same disease which had killed her father. Linda nursed her mother through her final illness and was only 13 when her mother died.
Linda's training as a nurse began under the supervision of Doc Currier, the family doctor who took care of her mother. From him she learned some medical knowledge. She lived with her grandfather until she was 15 when she enrolled in the St. Johnsbury Academy for a year of teacher training. Although not happy at St. Johnsbury, Linda did complete her training and taught school for several years in Newbury.
Linda met and became engaged to George Poole in 1860, but George went to the Civil War with the Green Mountain Boys before they married. He came home wounded in 1865 and Linda spent the next four years nursing him till his death in 1869.
After George's death, Linda moved to Boston where she was hired as an assistant nurse at the Boston City Hospital. Nurses were treated as little better than maids at the hospital and she left after only 3 months because of poor health. Some months later Linda noticed an advertisement for a nurse-training program to be offered at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. The resident physician, Miss. Susan Dimock, had studied medicine since she was 15 and had trained for surgery at the University of Zurich. Linda was one of five students who sign up for the course.
After a year of training, Linda Richards, the first student to enroll, was the first to graduate from the nursing program. Her diploma is in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Upon graduation, Linda became the night supervisor at Bellevue Hospital in New York City where she met Sister Helen, a nun of the All Saints Order, who had trained in the Nightingale System in London. At Bellevue Linda created a system for charting and maintaining individual medical records for each patient. This was the first written reporting system for nurses which even the famous Nightingale System adopted.
By 1874 Linda was ready to take over the floundering Boston Training School. Her administrative experience with Sister Helen helped her turn the program around and it became one of the best nurse training programs in the country.
In 1877 Linda traveled to England for seven months of intensive study. She spent two months at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, the hospital Florence Nightingale had established in 1860. It was during this time that she was able to meet Miss Nightingale herself, who suggested Linda study at King's College Hospital and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland. Dr. Joseph Lister, the father of antiseptic surgery, was working at the Edinburgh Infirmary during this period.
She returned to Boston in 1878 to work at the Boston College Hospital where she established a nurse training school. Following some health problems brought on by overwork, Linda used her experience to establish the first nurse-training program in Japan. She began in 1886, at first working through an interpreter. She stayed in Japan for 5 years before returning to America.
Linda Richards continued to establish nurse training programs and schools in Philadelphia, Massachusetts and Michigan. She retired in 1911 at age 70 when she wrote her autobiography, Reminiscences of Linda Richards. She suffered a severe stroke in 1923 and lived the remainder of her life at the New England Hospital for Women and Children where she had done her first training. She died on April 16, 1930 in Boston.
Linda Richards was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY. Her portrait hangs in the lobby of the Canton-Potsdam Hospital, just a few miles from where America's first trained nurse was born.

Notable dates

Timeline of Nursing History

1898 Spanish American War- Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) establish volunteer Hospital Corp. to assist Army and Navy surgeons in the screening process of nurses who applied to serve. ( 28 Apr 1898 At the onset of the Spanish-American War, the Surgeon General requested and promptly received congressional authority to appoint women nurses under contract at the rate of $30 per month and a daily ration.( This process led to the establishment of Army Nurse August of 1898 from the DAR Hospital Corp. DAR member Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee (graduate of Columbian College, which is now George Washington University) was chosen to head this corp. Her proposal for a permanent nurse corps became part of the Army Recognition Act of 1901, which by law established the Army Nurse Corps on February 2, 1901.( and Civilian hospitals had been operating schools of nursing since 1873. Dr. McGee set high standards for volunteer applicants. For the most part, only graduates certified by approval of nursing school directors were accepted for appointment under contract to the Army. Many of the nurses were of the religious orders Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of the Holy Cross. Other nurses were obtained through the assistance of the Red Cross Society for the Maintenance of Trained Nurses in New York. Military nursing achieved a high level of professional competence. These military nurses became known as "contract nurses" of the Army.

July 1898 - Between May and July, almost twelve hundred nurses had volunteered. The emergency which made the nursing services of women acceptable resulted from the inability of the Army Medical Department to enlist within a few weeks six thousand or more men qualified by previous experience to perform important patient care duties and from the epidemic prevalence of typhoid fever in the Army's camps. One nurse in a field hospital in United States wrote:

"The nurses quartered in an old Spanish house in Coamo, located in a banana grove. We drove to camp in mule ambulances. Put in long hours. . . . Sick men from 3rd Wisconsin, 16th Pennsylvania, and 3rd Kentucky Regiments cared for by Army Nurses. All water for any purpose hauled in barrels from a spring more than a mile away. Tents crowded, typhoid fever, dysentery and diarrhea, conditions bad, no ice, no diet kitchen."

1898 - ­1901 Slightly more than fifteen hundred women nurses signed governmental contracts. Contract nurses served in the United States, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, China, briefly in Japan, and on the hospital ship Relief. The maximum number on duty was 1,563 on 15 September 1898., Puerto Rico. (

After the Spanish-American War ended with the signing of the Peace Protocol on 12 August 1898, and as soon as the typhoid epidemic in the United States was brought under control in 1899, the number of women nurses was reduced to 700. By June 1900, there were 210 nurses serving under contract with the Army.
During and following the Spanish-American War, fifteen nurses died of typhoid fever. Another, Clara Louise Maass of New Jersey, died of yellow fever on 24 August 1901. A former contract nurse, Miss Maass was not connected with the experiments of the Yellow Fever Commission (a board headed by Maj. Walter Reed, MC), but volunteered as a subject in the research on modes of transmission of the disease while she was employed in Cuba at the Las Animas Hospital, Havana. In 1904, William C. Gorgas, MC (later the Surgeon General, 1914­1918), who put the U.S. Army research findings to practical use in Cuba and later in Panama, stated that Miss Maass' death was a contributing factor in convincing physicians and the public that yellow fever was in fact transmitted by a mosquito vector.

29 Aug 1898 The Surgeon General established a Nurse Corps Division in his office to direct and coordinate the efforts of military nursing. Dr. McGee was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon and placed in charge. She immediately set about to make military nursing an attractive career.

20 Jun 1899 The first Army regulations governing the Nurse Corps were published as a circular, approved by the Secretary of War and issued from the Surgeon General's Office. These regulations governed the appointment of nurses and defined their duties, pay, and privileges. Quarters and rations, transportation expenses, leave of absence in the proportion of thirty days for each year of past service, care when sick, a uniform, and a badge were authorized for the nurse. The pay was increased to $40 a month in the United States and to $50 in overseas areas. The regulations were reissued on 9 March 1900, with but two important changes: appointments were limited to citizens of the United States; and the annual leave was changed to thirty days authorized in each calendar year, regardless of length of service.

1901 A bill came before the Congress to establish a permanent Nurse Corps. While most contract nurses had been subject to Army control and regulations, others had been paid by private sources and were thus under the control of private individuals and voluntary organizations, such as the DAR and the Red Cross Societies. Such an arrangement created difficult administrative problems. This, coupled with the recognized need for women nurses, made it imperative that the status of the Army nurse be clarified and officially regulated. Earlier, Surgeon General George M. Sternberg had not been fully convinced that a permanent Nurse Corps should be established. He had been reluctant to have women serve with the troops in the field; he had commented on the added expense of "luxuries" for the women such as bureaus, rocking chairs, and other special items not previously requisitioned for the men; and many of his senior medical officers had disapproved of the idea. However, the record of service of the women nurses who served during the Spanish-American War was the convincing factor and paved the way for establishment of a permanent Nurse Corps. The Surgeon General, in his annual report of 1899, said:

"American women may well feel proud of the record made by these nurses in 1898­99, for every medical officer with whom they served has testified to their intelligence, and skill, their earnestness, devotion and self-sacrifice."

At the request of Surgeon General Sternberg, Dr. McGee wrote a bill to establish a Nurse Corps (female). What she wrote eventually became Section 19 of the Army Reorganization Act of 1901. Congress passed the bill after Dr. McGee left office on 31 December 1900, but she became known as the "Founder of the Army Nurse Corps."

2 Feb 1901 The Nurse Corps (female) became a permanent corps of the Medical Department under the Army Reorganization Act (31 Stat. 753) passed by the Congress. Nurses were appointed in the Regular Army for a three-year period, although nurses were not actually commissioned as officers in the Regular Army until forty-six years later-on 16 April 1947. The appointment could be renewed provided the applicant had a "satisfactory record for efficiency, conduct and health." (The application for continuance of service every three years was discontinued in 1934.) The law directed the Surgeon General to maintain a list of qualified nurses who were willing to serve in an emergency. Therefore, provision was made to appoint a certain number of nurses with at least six months of satisfactory service in the Army on a reserve status. This was the first Reserve Corps authorized in the Army Medical Department. (The Army Medical Reserve Corps for medical officers only, 35 Stat. 66, forerunner of today's reserve component, was established by the Congress on 23 April 1908.) Each reserve nurse signed an agreement to enter active service whenever required and to report by letter to the Surgeon General every six months. There were thirty-seven reserve nurses who wore the badge of the Army nurse.

28 Feb 1901 The number of "charter" members of the Nurse Corps as of this date was generally considered to be 202. There were actually 220 nurses on active duty, but this number included those at home awaiting discharge. By 1 July, 176 nurses remained in the Corps.

15 Mar 1901 Dita H. Kinney, a former contract nurse, was officially appointed the first Superintendent of the Corps, a position she had held since 1 January 1901. Mrs. Kinney served as Superintendent of the Corps until she resigned on 31 July 1909.

1902 The authorized strength of the Nurse Corps was fixed at 100 nurses and remained unchanged for ten years.

12 Aug 1909 Jane A. Delano, a graduate nurse and active Red Cross worker, was appointed Superintendent of the Corps. She resigned on 31 March 1912 to serve as Chairman of the American Red Cross Nursing Service. In 1911, during Miss Delano's tenure as Superintendent of the Corps, the enrolled nurses of the American Red Cross were designated as the primary source of reserve nurses for the Army. The "reserve list" provision in the basic law had attracted few nurses in a decade of effort, but by 30 June 1913, there were 4,000 nurses eligible, by their consent, for active military duty assignment.

1912­-1914 The authorized strength of the Nurse Corps was increased to 125 in 1912 and to 150 in 1914.

1 Apr 1912 Isabel McIsaac was appointed Superintendent of the Corps and served until her death on 21 September 1914.

22 Sep 1914 Dora E. Thompson was appointed the fourth Superintendent of the Corps. Miss Thompson was the first Regular Army nurse to serve as Superintendent.

6 Apr 1917 The United States entered World War I. There were 403 nurses on active duty, including 170 reserve nurses who had been ordered to duty (as a result of incidents on the Mexican border) in twelve Army hospitals in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. By 30 June 1917, there were 1,176 nurses on duty. One year later, 12,186 nurses (2,000 Regular Army and 10,186 reserve) were on active duty serving at 198 stations worldwide.

May 1917 Six base (general) hospitals, with more than four hundred nurses, sailed for France for service with the British Expeditionary Forces. (

(see Souces below)

You can learn more about the History of Nursing at >*

Famous nurses ...

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  • Florence Guinness Blake (November 30, 1907 - September 12, 1983) was an American nurse, professor and author who made significant contributions to paediatric nursing
  • Florence Aby Blanchfield (April 1, 1884 Shepherdstown, West Virginia – May 12, 1971 Washington, D.C.) was a United States Army Colonel and superintendent of the Army Nursing Corps, from 1943 to 1947.
  • Virginia Avenel Henderson, (November 30, 1897 – March 19, 1996) was an influential nurse, researcher, theorist and author.[ She is famous for a definition of nursing: "The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge" (first published in Henderson & Nite 1978, p. 5, 1955 ed.). She is known as "the first lady of nursing".
  • Hazel Winifred Johnson-Brown (October 10, 1927 – August 5, 2011)[1] is a retired nurse and educator, who served with the U.S. Army from 1955-1983. In 1979 she became the first black female general in the United States Army and the first black chief of the Army Nurse Corps.[2] She was also the Director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing
  • Mary Ezra/Eliza Mahoney - the first African-American woman to complete nursing training and become a registered nurse.
  • Elizabeth Grace Neill (26 May 1846 – 18 August 1926) was a nurse from New Zealand who lobbied for passage of laws requiring training and registration of nurses and midwives in New Zealand
  • Christiane Reimann (1916 – 1979): Born in Denmark, Christiane Reimann is recognised for her contributions to the international nursing community. She was the first full-time executive secretary to the International Council of Nurses. She left to manage a family farm in Syracuse, Italy in 1934, but remained devoted to the idea of nursing.
  • Lillian Wald (March 10, 1867 – September 1, 1940) was an American nurse, humanitarian and author. She was known for contributions to human rights and was the founder of American community nursing.

References and Sources

Further Reading

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