The following is a Woman of Courage profile written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women.

Linda Richards

America's First Trained Nurse

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.

You can learn more about the History of Nursing.

The History of Nursing in America: The Ultimate Web Guide

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