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Jane A. Delano: Pioneer of the Modern Nursing Profession

A standing portrait of Jane Delano.

This month we celebrated Jane A. Delano’s contributions to the Red Cross and the field of nursing, with a wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery. A pioneer of the modern nursing profession and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Delano founded the Red Cross nursing service in 1909 creating a vital force that uplifted lives with compassion and professional skill. Under Delano’s guidance and legacy, nurses became a national symbol volunteering for service in war and disaster, creating programs for emergency response and advancing health care programs.

Jane’s Early Life and Career

Born on March 12, 1862, in Townsend, New York, Jane Delano’s father George Delano fought and died in the Civil War. He left Jane, her sister Ada and his wife Mary Ann behind. In 1884, Jane enrolled in Bellevue Nursing School completing her degree by 1886. Her early public service nursing included the 1888 Jacksonville, Florida, yellow fever epidemic and caring for typhoid patients at a copper mine in Bisbee, Arizona. Both experiences underscored the need for health education and social services in rural communities.

Volunteering with the Red Cross

Jane Delano sitting and posing with American Red Cross nurses.

By 1898, Jane was volunteering with the New York Red Cross Society recruiting nurses for the Spanish American war. Once again, a clear need arose, this time for a reserve of trained nurses. All these experiences later influenced Jane’s work with the Red Cross Nursing Service where she put her ideas regarding a nursing reserve and health education into motion.

Jane’s professional influence grew and by 1909, she was the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and simultaneously served as the Chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service, President of the American Nurses Association, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Journal of Nursing. Under Jane’s leadership, the Red Cross Nursing Service became the recognized nursing reserve for the Army, Navy, and the Public Health Service.

By 1912, Delano resigned from the Army Nurse Corps and volunteered full-time for the Red Cross. Jane promoted Red Cross nursing, increasing enrollment that resulted in 8,000 nurses ready for assignment when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. By the end of the war, over 20,000 nurses were recruited.

Honoring Jane

Jane Delano's grave site at Arlington Cemetery.

In 1919, a few months after the end of World War I, Jane sailed to France to check on her remaining nurses. While there, she became ill and passed away on April 15, 1919. It was a sudden and tragic loss to the nursing profession. Originally buried in Savenay, France, she was later interred at Arlington National Cemetery in September 1920.

To honor Jane’s life, quality of leadership, and clarity of vision, the Red Cross and the Daughters of the American Revolution co-hosted a wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery on April 13, 2019. We are grateful for Jane’s meaningful contributions to the Red Cross and the field of nursing.