Linda Ann Judson Richards
First professionally trained American nurse. Created the first system of keeping individualized, written medical records. Though born in upstate New York, she spent nearly 30 years living and working in Vermont. Established nursing schools in Japan and Hawaii.
Date of Birth06/27/1841
Date of Death04/16/1930
Linda Richards was born July 27, 1841 to Sanford and Betsy Sinclair Richards. The youngest of three daughters, she was christened Melinda Ann Judson. Her father, a minister, chose to name his daughter after Ann Hasseltine Judson, a pioneering American missionary to Southeast Asia. Judson had died about 15 years earlier, and Mr. Richards hoped his daughter might imitate her namesake, which, in her own way, she did. In later years, Richards embarked on her own sort of mission to that region, organizing hospitals and nursing programs in Hawaii and Japan. Linda Richards is credited with being the first professionally trained American nurse.
Richards spent her early life in Potsdam, New York. When she was four years old, her family moved west to the Wisconsin Territory, having bought land that today is the town of Watertown, Wisconsin. But within six weeks of moving, her father, Sanford Richards, died of tuberculosis and Richards' mother, Betsy, moved with her daughters to her father's home in Newbury, Vermont. Eventually, they would buy their own farm in the area.
After a few years, Richards' mother also fell sick with tuberculosis and Richards was called upon as a nurse for the first time. She helped take care of her mother through her final illness and was only 13 when she died. At this time, Richards moved back to her grandfather's home where she completed local school. At 15, Richards enrolled at St. Johnsbury Academy for one year of training to become a schoolteacher. After completing her training, she returned to Newbury, where she taught for several years.
In 1860, Richards became engaged to a man named George Poole. Before they could be married, Poole left Vermont to fight in the Civil War with the Green Mountain Boys. He returned, wounded, in 1865, and Richards acted as his nurse until his death in 1869. According to her later autobiography, "My desire to become a nurse grew out of what I heard of the need of nurses in the Civil War." After the death of her fiancee, Richards moved to Boston. "I had a fixed purpose to devote my life to the work of caring for the sick and suffering."
Richards soon found work at the Boston City Hospital as an assistant nurse in a large ward. "I there learned how little care was given to the sick, how little their groans and restlessness meant to most of the nurses' the majority were thoughtless, careless and often heartless." After just three months, Richards broke down and had to leave the position. But her resolve to become a nurse remained unchanged. Richards made contact with Dr. Susan Dimock, Director of the New England Hospital for Women and Children, who told Richards that the hospital would soon be organizing a nurse training school and encouraged Richards to sign up. In her autobiography, Richards ascribes her later renown to coincidence. "Any distinction which has come to me as the first trained nurse in America arises solely from the fact that I was the first student to enter the newly organized school, and so the first to graduate from it."
During her yearlong training, Richards and her fellow student nurses worked from 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. and remained on call throughout the night. Every other week, they received one-half day off. There were no textbooks and no entrance or final examinations. "The only bedside or practical instruction we received was from the young women interns, who taught us to read and register temperature, to count the pulse and respiration, and the methods of performing the various duties as they were assigned." In some cases, nurses were deliberately kept in the dark. "Great care was taken that we should not know the names of the medicines given. All bottles were numbered, not labeled: student nurses were a novelty then, and had frequent proofs that they were not highly thought of," Richards later recalled.
After graduating, Richards took a job as a night superintendent at the Bellevue Hospital Training School in New York City. "Many was the time I went into the wards at 7:30 in the evening and did not sit down until 8:30 the next morning.” While there, Richards began keeping written records of her patients. Before this, night nurses were expected to remember important details to relay orally to the day nurses and doctors when they arrived each morning. Richards’ practice of keeping individualized charts became the first ever written system for nurses. Eventually, it was even adopted by the famous Nightingale System.
In 1877, Richards traveled to England for seven months, where she was able to observe modern, organized hospitals and training programs. She was even able to meet Florence Nightingale herself, who was by then 57 years old. After this meeting, Nightingale reported to a colleague, "I have seen her, and have seldom seen anyone who struck me as so admirable. I think we have as much to learn from her as she from us."
After returning to America, Richards established a nurse training school at the Boston College Hospital. In 1886, she traveled to Hawaii and then Japan where she continued organizing and establishing nursing schools. She returned from the Far East in 1890, but continued her work. She went on to establish training programs and schools in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Michigan. In 1911, at the age of 70, Richards retired. In 1923, she had a serious stroke and spent the rest of her life where she had first trained - the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She died there, April 16, 1930.
- St. Johnsbury Academy (1856)
- First graduate from the New England Hospital for Women & Children's General Training School for Nurses (1873)