Back to articles

Be brilliant: Recognizing women in healthcare throughout history

Mind, Show on Corporate Home Women’s History Month traces its origins to the first Women’s Day in 1911. Today, the entire month of March is a time to appreciate and celebrate the achievements of women throughout history. This month, we’re recognizing some of the brilliant women who have shaped the world of healthcare.

Clara Barton

Perhaps one of the most famous women in healthcare is the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton. Barton had an intense devotion to serving others and is known for risking her life to care for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Because nursing education was not formalized in the U.S. in Barton’s time, she administered mostly self-taught nursing care, paving the way in humanitarian work and volunteer service.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale—born 200 years ago this year—is often credited as the founder of modern nursing. In 1860, she opened a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital, the first secular nursing school in the world. She established guidelines and best practices for sanitation and hospital planning that are still used today.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD, was the first African-American woman to become a physician in the U.S. Dr. Crumpler primarily practiced medicine for impoverished African-American women and children. She also worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide medical services for freed slaves who were denied care from white physicians.

Marie Curie

Known for her research on radioactivity, Marie Curie was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in 1903 for her work in physics. In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, becoming the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice. Curie developed the theory of radioactivity and found techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes. During World War I, she developed mobile x-ray units that could be used in the field to diagnose injuries. If you’ve ever received radiation therapy, you can thank Marie Curie for her research that led to the development of the treatment.

Virginia Apgar

Virginia Apgar, MD, is best known for developing the Apgar score, a system of evaluating a baby’s health, in 1952. At the time, there were no fetal monitors like we have today. Dr. Apgar’s method involved observation of skin color, muscle tone, breathing, and reflexes. Eventually, Dr. Apgar became the director of the division of congenital effects at the organization that is known today as the March of Dimes.

Ellen White

One of the leading figures in the early formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen White provided significant counsel on healthy living. She warned against the use of tobacco during a time when smoking was medically accepted. White also wrote about choosing nutritious foods in moderation, laying the foundation for the Seventh-day Adventist church’s teachings on health. Today, Adventist Health, founded on Seventh-day Adventist heritage and values, seeks to transform the healthcare experience by focusing on physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being.