Nancy Poultney Ellicott graduated the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1903 ready to roll, in every sense of the word. Born to a wealthy Maryland family, Ellicott enjoyed the benefits of her financial and social standing (she was the first woman in Baltimore to own and drive a car), but she embraced the privilege of nursing even more tightly.
Ellicott quickly became head nurse at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, then superintendent of nurses in the Church Home and Infirmary. Immediately recognized for her innovative thinking, she was hired in 1910 by the brand-new Rockefeller Institute Hospital in New York City, serving as its superintendent of nursing and housekeeping for 28 years and revolutionizing patient care and hospital hygiene. Her back rest for patients inspired beds with hinged frames; the hamper on wheels she invented made safer and easier the chore of hauling away soiled sheets (and made the Rockefeller Institute a lot of money); she proposed ceiling-mounted, sliding curtains between beds; and she pushed the use of beds on wheels to move patients more quickly and comfortably.
John D. Rockefeller himself noted, “Miss Ellicott was a woman of extraordinary ability and outstanding in her chosen profession. … The service which she rendered the Rockefeller Institute Hospital cannot be overestimated.”
Ellicott advocated tirelessly for better pay and retirement benefits for nurses.
Sources: Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives; Rockefeller University Hospital; the Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Nursing