Linda Richards (full name Malinda Ann Judson Richards, b. July 27, 1841 - d. April 16, 1930) spent a lifetime as a caregiver, and made history as a nurse on several fronts.
Richards was born near Potsdam, New York, the youngest of three daughters born to Betsy and Sinclair Richards. The family moved to Wisconsin, but then had to quickly relocate again when Sinclair Richards died of tuberculosis. The remaining family members moved to Vermont to live with their maternal grandfather.
Richards was caretaker for her ill mother, who also succumbed to tuberculosis when Richards was 13, an experience that piqued her interest in nursing as a career. Although she became a factory worker, then a teacher, nothing surpassed in passion for nursing. She tended to sick neighbors, and when her fiancé George Poole returned from the Civil War with mortal injuries, she nursed him until his death in 1869.
After these personal losses, Richards headed to Boston to work as a nurse. At first, though, she did little more than clean up after doctors and patients. Undeterred, she was in the first enrolled class at the New England Hospital of Women and Children training school for nurses. Upon graduation, Richards was officially the first training nurse in the United States.
Of her nurse’s training, Richards says,
“We rose at 5.30 a.m. and left the wards at 9 p.m. to go to our beds, which were in little rooms between the wards. Each nurse took care of her ward of six patients both day and night. Many a time I got up nine times in the night; often I did not get to sleep before the next call came. … Every second week we were off duty one afternoon from two to five o'clock. No monthly allowance was given for three months.”
The hard work and long hours did nothing to dissuade Richards, however. She worked in Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, eventually returning to Boston Training School as a superintendent. In 1877, she sought the training and mentorship of Florence Nightingale at London’s St. Thomas’s Hospital Training Program. Richards traveled throughout the UK to other training programs before returning, once again, to Boston.
From there, Richards went on to missionary work in Japan from 1886 to 1891, during which she helped establish a nurse’s training school in Kyoto, the first of its kind for that country.
Although Richards’s education and career are notable in and of themselves, perhaps her greatest contribution to nursing came from an administrative revolution in patient record keeping. At the time Richards was traveling and setting up nurse training programs, she became aware that none of the hospitals where she worked had a system of centralized record keeping. This contributed to difficulties in treating patients whose health conditions had them returning to hospitals for care.
Richards applied analytical thinking to records divisions in hospitals, creating a system that tracked patient information including allergies, diseases, medications, former diagnosis, and past procedures. This saved patients unnecessary pain and doctors wasted time, and improved patient outcomes across the board. In essence, Richards was instrumental in the creation of patient charting, documentation that is vital to the work that nurses and doctors do to the present day.
From 1891 until she retired in 1911 at age 70, Richards continued to support nursing organizations and served in varied supervisory roles in schools and mental hospitals. Richards died at her farm in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1930.
“Linda A. J. Richards,” American Association for the History of Nursing. https://www.aahn.org/richards
“Linda Richards,” Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Richards
“Four Nursing Role Models Who Changed Nursing Forever,” Concordia ABSN, April 1, 2020. https://absn.csp.edu/blog/national-nurses-week-four-nursing-role-models-changed-nursing-forever/