One of the greatest things about researching my book, The Black Angels, was delving deep into history and following its endless trails that often led me down rabbit holes and into unexpected places. There I wandered, stumbling into odd worlds replete with strange stories. They left me awed and curious, but it wasn’t the extraordinary that moved me; it was the ordinary: everyday people who had dedicated their lives to helping others. They were doctors and scientists, lab assistants and hospital aides, but mostly they were nurses.

Hundreds of them.   

These women came from all over the world–Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and America. They were young and old, black and white, deeply pious and rationally skeptical. They worked in big cities with bright lights and tiny towns entrenched in poverty and shame; they arrived at night on horseback or foot, making their way through thickets and woods. Few had cars. I found some of their stories living in the pages of books and in portraits neatly hung on museum walls; others came at me on plaques in hospital wards or local clinic rooms. Some I learned were well-known, others lesser known, and too many, like the nurses in my book, had slipped through eyes of history and into obscurity.  

In celebration of the Year of the Nurse, I’ve partnered with American Nurse Magazine and will honor these outstanding figures with weekly sketches of their lives, highlighting their contributions to nursing and medicine and humanity. My hope is that these nurses will finally receive the recognition they deserve.

To start, meet the legendary nurse-midwife Maude E. Callen.