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A Life of Purpose: Nursing Advocacy
''Nursing ... the number one service for women.''
The Bingham family home
Born on Cleveland's fashionable Euclid Avenue, Frances Payne Bingham never took her family's wealth for granted. Once her father asked for an accounting of how she had spent her allowance. She recalled his displeasure: "Yes, the arithmetic is correct, my dear," he said sternly, "but I'm sorry to see that you have spent it all on yourself." She never forgot the point of her father's comment -- her responsibility to use her wealth to make a difference in the world.

Her active life of service and philanthropy began in 1904, the year of her debut, when she accompanied a Visiting Nurse on her rounds through the tenements of Cleveland. She saw firsthand the role these health care workers played in relieving suffering. In those days nurses, recruited from the lower classes, were considered little better than servants. But Visiting Nurses, through their work among poor people, had earned a reputation for physical courage and compassion. They often took radical positions on issues of birth control, domestic violence, and alcoholism. Admiring their work, Frances Bingham resolved to use her fortune and social position to improve the education and professional standing of nurses. After her marriage to Chester Castle Bolton and the birth of their three sons, she served on the boards of the Visiting Nurse Association and the Lakeside Hospital Training School. She also provided funding for the creation of the National Organization of Public Health Nurses. During World War I, she joined with national leaders to convince Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to create an Army School of Nursing. This paved the way for improved nurse training and later the acceptance of nurses as commissioned members of the armed forces.

Realizing that education was the key to greater professional standing, in 1923 she gave Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland $1.5 million to set up a separate school of nursing. This was the largest gift to a nursing school and one of two university-based programs in the nation at that time. In 1935 the school was renamed the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in her honor. Mrs. Bolton also paid the salary of Mabel K. Staupers, executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, making it possible for the organization to survive through the 1930s -- a time when the American Nurses Association refused to admit African Americans.

Mrs. Bolton's advocacy on behalf of the nursing profession continued after she took office in the U.S. House of Representatives. In explaining her sponsorship of the Bolton Act during World War II to use federal funding to train more than 124,000 additional nurses, she called nursing the "number one service for women" and alluded to the signal achievement of the nursing community: bringing the training of nurses from "crude apprenticeship to scientific preparation for a broad and contributive professional career" (radio speech, 1943).

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Politician, humanitarian, philanthropist, and patriot The Life of Frances Payne Bolton (1885-1977) A nurse studying Frances Payne Bolton in her late teens