Kitty Ernst (1926 – )

Inspiration for Activism!

  • A pioneer in both the field of midwifery and in developing the best care possible for families in pregnancy and birth for over 40 years.
  • Served independently as a consultant, lecturer and parent educator, teaching some of the first childbirth education groups of the International Childbirth Education Association.
  • Tireless advocate of innovation for the sake of healthy families and family-centered maternity care.
  • Inspired many birth centers in the effort to bring birth centers into the mainstream of health care delivery.
  • Helped to institute the Commission for Accreditation of Freestanding Birth Centers.
  • Led the design and implementation of the first distance education program for nurse-midwives,

More information here and here and here.



Florence S. Wald (1917 – 2008)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • Began her nursing career at the Henry Street Settlement in New York.
  • Served in the Signal Corps during World War II. 
  • Became Dean of the Yale University School of Nursing in 1958; resigned as Dean in 1968 to study the British approach to care for the terminally ill.
  • Opened the first hospice in the United States in 1971.
  • Initiated training for inmates in Connecticut to become hospice volunteers for dying inmates, an approach that became a model for prisons worldwide.
More Information here and here and here and here and here and here.


Josephine Ensign (1960 – )

Inspiration for Activism!

  •  Worked for three decades as a family nurse practitioner providing primary health care to homeless adolescents and adults in large urban areas on both coasts of the U.S.
  • Focuses her work on increasing understanding of the lives of marginalized populations, and developing ways to increase their access to effective health care programs.
  • Uses personal stories to highlight important public policy issues within an emancipatory framework.
  • Her essays have appeared in The Sun, The Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Pulse, Silk Road, The Intima, The Examined Life Journal, Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine, and the nonfiction anthology “I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse“, edited by Lee Gutkind.  
  • Her first book “Catching Homelessness: A Nurses Story of Falling thought the Safety Net,” provides a piercing look at the homelessness industry, nursing, and our country’s health care safety net.

More Information here and here and here and here.

Virginia Henderson (1897 – 1996)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • Known as the quintessential nurse of the 20th century because of her abiding commitment to the fundamental values of nursing.
  • Prolific author of works that have become “the soul of modern nursing.”
  • Her definition of nursing became the internationally adopted statement of nursing (watch her recite this definition in the video below!) — “The unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or to peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge”
  • Authored three of the “Principles and Practice of Nursing” text that elaborated on the knowledge base necessary to act in terms of her definition of nursing.
  • Conducted a survey and assessment of nursing research that shifted nursing research away from studying nurses to studying the differences that nurses can make in people’s lives.
  • Published a “Nursing Studies” Index that captured the intellectual history of the first six decades of the 20th century.

More information here and here and here.  Also see A Virginia Henderson Reader: Excellence in Nursing, edited by Edward Holleran

Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • Proponent of human rights, abolitionist, spokesperson for children and families, and a nurse.
  • Became a writer to provide income for her impoverished family.
  • At the age of thirty began service as a nurse at the Union Hospital at Georgetown in December, 1862.
  • Author of a book, published in 1863, about Civil War era nursing called Hospital Sketches (available here; full text available here)
  • Authored “Little Women” in 1868 – a book that is really about the empowerment of women and girls around the world.
  • Challenged gender roles and stereotypes; wrote fiery novels under pen name A.M. Barnard; is known to have stated: “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body … because I have fallen in love with so many pretty girls and never once the least bit with any man.”

More information here and here and here and here

1940 Louisa May Alcott 5c stamp