Famous as the first African American professional nurse, she is also remembered as the founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, which later became part of the American Nurses Association. She was also a notable women's suffragist and civil rights activist.
Before entering nursing school, she worked for over a decade at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.
She was a 1976 inductee into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and a 1993 inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
The children of former slaves, she and her two younger siblings were raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
She and Joycelyn Elders both broke barriers of gender and race to become, respectively, the first professionally trained African American nurse and the first African American U.S. Surgeon General.