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Richards, Linda (1841–1930)

Richards, Linda (1841–1930)

American nurse and educator. Born Melinda Ann Judson Richards on July 27, 1841, in Potsdam, New York; died on April 16, 1930, in Boston, Massachusetts; youngest daughter of Sanford Richards and Betsy (Sinclair) Richards; graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children nursing school, 1873; never married; no children.

Became America's first nursing school graduate (1873); served as first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools (1894); served as head of the Philadelphia Visiting Nurses Society.

Melinda Ann Judson Richards, called Linda, was born in 1841 in Potsdam, New York, and named after missionary Ann Hasseltine Judson because her father hoped she would grow up to become a missionary. The family, which included Linda's three older sisters, lived briefly in Watertown, Wisconsin, before the death of Sanford Richards when Linda was only four years old. Her mother Betsy Sinclair Richards then moved the family to Vermont, where the girls were raised in Derby and Lyndon. Richards received much of her education at an academy in Barton, Vermont. She was 13 years old, and had recently joined the Baptist Church, when her mother died. She then went to live with a physician by the name of Masta, earning her keep in his home by serving as a "born nurse." (Born nurses in those days were women who visited and helped the sick and bedridden.)

Richards took her first paying job during the Civil War, at the Union Straw Works in Foxboro, Massachusetts. She remained at the Straw Works for seven years before quitting in 1870 to work at Boston City Hospital. At the time, there were no nursing schools at which professional nurses could receive formal training, and they performed the most menial chores in hospitals; nursing was considered a job appropriate only for those unable to find better work, and nurses themselves were usually uneducated and often slovenly or heavy drinkers. It had been Richards' desire to work as an assistant nurse, but what she found at Boston City Hospital came as a sad surprise, and she left within three months. Two years later, Dr. Susan Dimock became resident physician and administrator of the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and the hospital set up a training school for nurses. Richards promptly enrolled as a student, and one year later, in 1873, became the first of five women to graduate from the first nursing school in U.S. history.

After graduating, Richards spent one year as night supervisor of the first American training school modeled after Florence Nightingale 's nursing principles, the Bellevue Training School in New York City. She then moved back to Boston to work at the Boston Training School (later the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Nursing). Despite the innovations of nurses' training schools, only a few of these programs came into existence, and they were plagued by ambivalence among hospital medical staffs who were skeptical of the importance of trained nurses. Richards' work at the Boston Training School and other institutions was significant in that she established a sense of credibility among the schools with which she was associated. It was through her persistent example that superintendents of training schools served simultaneously as superintendents of nurses in their hospital environments. Richards was subsequently named supervisor of the nursing staff at the Boston Training School, a position she held until her resignation in 1877. That year, she traveled to England to observe the training schools set up by Florence Nightingale and to consult personally with Nightingale herself. Upon her return to the United States, she set about creating a training school for nurses at Boston City Hospital that both would follow Nightingale's precepts and be deeply connected with the hospital itself. She met with success, and the school opened in 1878. As had been her practice in the past, she served as matron of the hospital and as superintendent of the school.

Richards, who was in poor health, took one leave of absence during her tenure at Boston City Hospital before resigning in 1885. She then volunteered at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which sent her to Japan in 1886. There she established the first Japanese nursing school, at Doshisha Hospital in Kyoto. Richards supervised the school and evangelized for five years before returning to the United States in 1891, again because of poor health.

In 1892, Richards founded a school at Methodist Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia. Between 1893 and her retirement in 1911, she headed the nurses' training schools at New England Hospital for Women and Children, at Taunton Insane Hospital in Massachusetts, and at the Michigan Insane Asylum in Kalamazoo. She also worked at Brooklyn Homeopathic Hospital, Hartford Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, and established a training school at Worcester Hospital for the Insane. In 1894, she became the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools, and she was a member of the committee that established the predecessor of the nursing education division at Columbia University's Teachers College. After her retirement, Richards lived in rural Lowell, Massachusetts, and privately published her memoir, Reminiscences of Linda Richards. She was rendered an invalid after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, and died in a Boston hospital on April 16, 1930. The Linda Richards Award, given in recognition of an unprecedented contribution to the field of nursing, was instituted by the National League for Nursing in 1962.


Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

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

Gloria Cooksey , freelance writer, Sacramento, California

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