Noyes, Clara Dutton (1869–1936)

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Noyes, Clara Dutton (1869–1936)

American nurse and educator. Pronunciation: noise. Born on October 3, 1869, in Port Deposit, Maryland; died on June 3, 1936, in Washington, D.C.; daughter of Enoch Dutton Noyes and Laura Lay (Banning) Noyes; graduated from Johns Hopkins School for Nursing, 1896.

Founded first American school for midwives (1911); received Florence Nightingale Medal of the International Red Cross (1923); received French Medal of Honor (1929); inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Nurses Association (1998).

One of the most prominent professional nurses of the early 20th century, Clara Dutton Noyes instituted many standardized procedures, maintained the Red Cross' reserve of trained nurses for emergency service, and founded the first school for midwives in America. She was born in Port Deposit, Maryland, on October 3, 1869, the daughter of Laura Banning Noyes and Enoch Dutton Noyes. Her father was a veteran of the Civil War and a descendant of the Reverend James Noyes, who had settled in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1634. Noyes attended private schools for her early education and later studied at the Johns Hopkins School for Nursing, from which she graduated in 1896. She then became head nurse at Johns Hopkins, holding that position until 1897, when she was appointed superintendent of the nurses' training school of Boston's New England Hospital for Women and Children. She worked there until 1901, when she took the job of superintendent of nurses at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In 1910, Noyes moved to New York, where she worked as superintendent of nurses at Bellevue and Allied Hospitals. At this time, statistics showed that approximately 50% of attended births used the services of a midwife. This may have reflected the large number of European immigrants newly arrived in America, for use of a midwife was customary practice in Europe. In Europe, however, it was mandatory that midwives complete a rather demanding apprenticeship, while in America there was no formal training available for midwives. Recognizing the need for adequately trained midwives, in 1911 Noyes founded the Bellevue School for Midwives. It was the first school for midwives in the United States and the only school for midwives that was publicly funded prior to its closing in 1938. During several of her years at Bellevue, from 1912 to 1915, Noyes also served as president of the National League of Nursing Education.

With the encouragement of Jane Arminda Delano , a fellow nurse and one of the heads of the American Red Cross, Noyes resigned from her job at Bellevue in 1916 to enter the Red Cross. She was subsequently appointed director of the Bureau of Nursing within the organization's Department of Military Relief. With the United States' entry into World War I in 1917, Noyes was appointed command of the mobilization and deployment of a corps of trained nurses to cover 54 base hospitals. She was also in charge of organizing numerous relief expeditions during the war. At the same time, she accomplished the task of improving and standardizing courses of instruction for Red Cross nurses as well as standardizing various treatment procedures and surgical dressings. The great demand for nurses led to the creation of a special department of field nursing, of which Noyes was named director in 1918. In this capacity, she was in charge of the assignments for all the Red Cross nurses and equipment for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Public Health Service, both within the United States and abroad. It was estimated that Noyes enrolled, organized, and assigned over 20,000 trained nurses during World War I.

In 1919, Noyes succeeded her late friend and mentor Delano as national director of the Department of Nursing of the American Red Cross, a position she would hold for the rest of her life. The same year, she also became chair of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service, a post requiring the coordination of over 200 state and local committees comprised of Red Cross nurses. Noyes was known as someone who could organize major nursing departments and vast numbers of people, and was vocal in calling for the standardization of education, basic procedures, and materials used in nursing procedures. During the early 1920s, she was asked to visit and observe Red Cross facilities in Western and Eastern Europe in order to make recommendations for the development of public-health services and nursing schools. Her job had, essentially, become global.

Under Noyes' leadership, the Red Cross reserve of trained nurses was ready and available for emergency service, with over 60,000 registered by the mid-1930s. They served during the influenza pandemic of 1918–19 and assisted those in need after natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods; over 600 were involved after the Los Angeles earthquake of 1933. She also implemented training programs for Red Cross nurses to become educators, teaching home health care, hygiene procedures, and simple nursing procedures, which was of great service during the Depression.

In the course of her career, Noyes also served on numerous committees and worked as a lecturer, consultant, and educator. She received many awards from American and foreign governments for her exemplary service to the field of nursing, including the Florence Nightingale Medal of the International Committee of Red Cross Societies, the American Red Cross Service Medal, the Patriotic Service Medal of the American Science Association and the National Institute of Social Sciences, the French Medal of Honor, and the Honorary Cross of the Latvian Red Cross Society. Clara Dutton Noyes died in Washington, D.C., on June 3, 1936, at the age of 66. In 1998, she was inducted into the American Nurses Association's Hall of Fame.


Encyclopedia of American Biography. New Series. NY: American Historical Society, 1992.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Christine Miner Minderovic , freelance writer, Ann Arbor, Michigan