Linda Richards Biography (1841-1930)


The first professionally trained American nurse, Linda Richards is credited with establishing nurse training programs in various parts of the United States and in Japan. She also is recognized for creating the first system for keeping individual medical records for hospitalized patients.

Born on July 27, 1841, in West Potsdam, New York, Richards was the youngest of three daughters of Sanford and Betsy (Sinclair) Richards. Her father was apreacher who christened his youngest daughter Malinda Ann Judson Richards inhopes that she would follow in the footsteps of missionary Ann Judson Hasseltine.

When Richards was four years old, her family moved to the Wisconsin territory, where her father owned some land. Unfortunately, her father died from tuberculosis just six weeks after they arrived at their new home. Heartbroken, Richards returned with her mother and sisters to Newbury, Vermont, to stay withher grandfather. The family bought a small farm near Newbury where they liveduntil her mother also contracted tuberculosis. Linda, who was just 13, nursed her mother Betsy who also died from the infection.

The experience awakened young Linda's interest in nursing, and she received some informal training from a Doctor Currier, the local family practitioner who had cared for her mother. Despite her interest in nursing, however, she enrolled at the St. Johnsbury Academy when she was 15 to be trained as a teacher. Although she finished the one-year program and taught for several years, she was never happy teaching. At about the same time, she also worked for several years at the Union Straw Works in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

In 1860, Linda met George Poole, to whom she became engaged. Shortly after they met, Poole joined the Green Mountain Boys to fight in the U.S. Civil War;he was severely wounded in 1865. When he returned home, Richards cared for him until his death in 1869.

By this time, Richards had decided that she wanted to work as a nurse, and she moved to Boston to take a job at the Boston City Hospital. She received practically no training and was treated more like a maid than the nurse she wanted to be. She became ill and left the hospital after only three months. Undaunted by the experience, she was one of five women to sign up for a nurse-training program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She was theprogram's first graduate in 1873.

After her graduation, she traveled to New York City, where she was hired as night supervisor at Bellevue Hospital. It was there that she created a systemfor keeping individual records for each patient. Her system became widely used in this country and in England, where it was adopted by St. Thomas's Hospital, the institution founded by Florence Nightingale.

When she returned to Boston in 1874, she was named superintendent of the Boston Training School. The school's nurse-training program was only a year old at that time and was in danger of closing due to poor management. Richards, with her gift for organization and love of nursing, was able to turn the program around. Eventually, it became regarded as one of the best nursing programsin the country.

Longing for more skills, in 1877 Richards went to England to participate in an intensive, seven-month nurse training program. She studied at St. Thomas'sHospital in London, where she was able to spend some time with Florence Nightingale, widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing. At Nightingale's suggestion, she studied at King's College Hospital and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland.

Richards returned to America in 1878 to help set up a training school at Boston City Hospital. Named matron of the hospital and superintendent of the school, she stayed there until 1885 when she became ill. Later that year, she traveled to Japan to help establish that country's first nurse-training program.Richards supervised the school at Doshisha Hospital in Kyoto for five yearsbefore returning to the United States. Once home, she worked in the field ofnursing for another 20 years, establishing and directing nurse-training programs in Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Michigan. She was elected as the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools and served as head of the Philadelphia Visiting Nurses Society. She also set upnurse-training schools in several hospitals for mentally ill patients.

Richards retired in 1911 to write her autobiography, Reminiscences of Linda Richards. Following a severe stroke in 1923, she returned to the New England Hospital for Women and Children where she remained until her death on April 16, 1930. Richards was named to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.

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