Linda A. J. Richards
1841 - 1930

Photo of Linda Richard's crypt in Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston

Crypt for the ashes of Linda Richards, Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston
Photo by Mary Ellen Doona

Linda Richards is generally recognized as the first training nurse in the United States. But her entire career was marked by pioneering work.

Born on July 27, 1841, near Potsdam, New York, Melinda Richards was the youngest daughter born to Sanford and Betsy Sinclair Richards. She was named after a missionary, Ann Judson by her devout parents. Her childhood was spent moving around from New York to Wisconsin and Vermont and by the age of 13, both of her parents had died of tuberculosis. Living with her devout maternal grandfather, her dying mother and then the family physician all influenced her career path. She even nursed her fiancé who had been injured during the Civil War.

After several years working in a factory and taking care of sick neighbors, she went to Boston to work as an "assistant nurse", which entailed the work of a charwoman. Shortly thereafter the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston began a training school for nurses. She was accepted as a member of the first class of five students in September 1872 and completed the program in September of 1873.

After this noted graduation, Richards accepted a position as night superintendent at the newly established Bellevue Training School (New York City) which was the first Nightingale model training school in the United States. In 1874 she returned to Boston as superintendent of the Boston Training School. In this position she encountered physician opposition to the training of nurses. She provided strong leadership, developing a program of regular classroom instruction, instead of occasional lectures by physicians.

She left the Boston Training School after three successful years and with the support and mentoring of Florence Nightingale, visited London's St. Thomas's Hospital Training Program as well as other programs in the United Kingdom. Despite this exposure to the Nightingale system, Richards returned to Boston in 1877 and integrated the Boston City Hospital training school into the hospital, weakening whatever independence the school once had.

Responding to her early childhood religious influences, Richards served as a missionary to Japan in from 1886 to 1891. During this time she opened Japan's first nurses training school in Kyoto.

On her return to the United States she continued in leadership roles but in brief episodes due to weakened health. For a short time in 1891 she was head of the Philadelphia Visiting Nurse Society. She established a training school at Philadelphia's Methodist Episcopal Hospital in 1892. She then returned to Boston and reorganized nursing program at the New England Hospital for Women and Children (1893-94). She had at least two other positions as superintendent of training schools.

Linda Richards became actively involved in nursing organizations and can be regarded as one of the movers and shakers of the young profession. She served as the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools in 1894, which was the first professional organization for nurses. She also had the distinction of purchasing the first share of stock in the American Journal of Nursing Company in 1900. She also served as a member of the committee that established the Hospital Economics program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Perhaps in response to an earlier hospitalization, she directed her energy to nursing in mental hospitals. She served as director of training schools at the Taunton Insane Hospital in Massachusetts, Worcester Hospital for the Insane and Michigan Insane Asylum.

She retired in 1911 at age 70, living on a farm in Lowell, Massachusetts. She died April 16, 1930.

Sources:

Baker, R, Linda Richards: First Trained Nurse in America . New York: Julian Messner, 1959.

Collins, D.R Linda Richards: First American Trained Nurse. Champaign, ill.: Garrard Publishing, 1973.

Vern L. Bullough (1988). Linda Ann Judson Richards. In: American nursing: A biographical dictionary, Vol I. V.L. Bullough, V.L., O.M. Church, & A.P. Stein, (Eds.). New York: Garland.

Doona, M.E. (1996). Linda Richards and Nursing in Japan, 1885-1890. Nursing History Review, 4, 99-128.

Richards, L. (1915). Early Days in the First American Training School for Nurses. American Journal of Nursing 16 (December 1915):174-79.

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