July 27th in (Feminist) History

800px-linda_richards_001On this day in 1841 was the birth of Linda Richards, the first professionally trained nurse in the United States and also the creator of the first patient medical records system. She was born Malinda Ann Judson Richards in West Potsdam, New York and was the youngest of three daughters. Her father—a preacher—named her after a missionary (Ann Hasseltine Judson), hoping she would follow in the woman’s footsteps. But after her father’s death of tuberculosis in 1845 the family moved to Vermont and settled on a farm, and when her mother also caught the disease, Linda became her primary nurse until her mother’s death in 1854.

Linda’s interest in nursing was sparked by taking care of her dying mother, but she did not jump right into it as a career. Originally she trained as a teacher at the St. Johnsbury Academy and subsequently worked as one for several years; however she was never truly happy with that career. In 1860 she met and got engaged to a man who would go on to be injured in the Civil War. Upon his return, Linda nursed him until his death in 1869, which finally motivated her to change her life to follow her own dreams. She moved to Boston to become a nurse and pursued her goals regardless of the hardship that got in her way. For example, when her three month period at Boston City Hospital involved almost no training, she didn’t allow herself to be dissuaded. She left, and subsequently became the first student to enroll in the American Nurse’s training school’s inaugural class, run by Dr. Susan Dimock of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. While training at the NEHWC, Linda cared for six patients as part of her ward, often working day and night.

After graduating she worked as the night supervisor at Bellevue Hospital Center, where she created a first of it’s kind patient records system that would go on to be used in both the U.S., and the U.K. She worked at the Boston Training School, reorganizing and improving the failing program until it was recognized as the best of it’s kind. Later she trained under Florence Nightingale in England during a seven month training program, working there for numerous years before returning to the U.S. to found and superintend nursing training schools across the nation, and later in Japan as well. Before she retired in 1911 at the age of seventy, she spent numerous years establishing special institutions for people with mental illnesses, and was also elected the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools. 

Her book about her experiences, Reminiscences of Linda Richards, was published in 1911 (and published in 2006 as America’s First Trained Nurse). After suffering a stroke in 1923, she was hospitalized until she died in 1930 at the age of 88.


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