Linda Richards (1841 – 1930)

Photo: Linda Richards (from “Reminiscences of Linda Richards, America’s First Trained Nurse”)

Linda Richards’ career in nursing seemed predestined; she spent much of her childhood caring for her tuberculosis-ridden parents.  She later nursed her fiancé, who had been injured during the Civil War.  Richards was a member of the first class at the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s training school for nurses, a class of five students.  Upon graduating in 1874, she took a position as night superintendent at the newly-established Bellevue Training School in New York City.

Richards implemented new ideas and changes in the field of nursing that have long become common practice in the United States and abroad.  In her first role at Bellevue Training School, she started a written system of individual patient records – at the time, doctors’ orders and nurses’ reports were entirely verbal.  Richards left Bellevue to serve as the superintendent at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital where, despite opposition from physicians, she developed a training program for nurses, combining regular classroom instruction with lectures from outside physicians and guests.  She also reorganized the hospital’s nursing staff, delegated custodial duties away from nurses, and assigned night-duty nurses to relieve the “24-hour on-call” standard.

After studying abroad with Florence Nightingale and Joseph Bell, Richards served as a missionary in Japan from 1886 to 1891, opening the first nurses training school in Kyoto.  Upon returning to the United States, she continued to establish nurse training programs and serve in leadership roles of nursing training programs.  In 1899, she shifted her focus to the training of psychiatric nurses until her retirement in 1911.