Mary Beard devoted her entire life to improving the field of nursing. Her persistent efforts played a key role in the greater professionalization of the field, both in the United States and worldwide.
Born in 1876, Beard enrolled in the New York Hospital School of Nursing in 1899. She graduated in 1903 and immediately took a position as a home nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA). By the time Beard left the VNA in 1910, she had been serving as the director of the organization. She worked briefly at the Laboratory of Surgical Pathology at Columbia University before heading to Boston in 1912. There she became director of the Boston Instructive District Nursing Association. This position allowed her to organize the medical care of Boston’s poor and to focus her attentions on prenatal and maternity care. In the same year Beard also helped to found the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, an organization devoted to the improvement of nursing practices and education. She served as president of the organization from 1916 to 1919 while simultaneously chairing a Council of National Defense Medical Board’s Committee on Public Health Nursing during World War I.
In 1924 Beard began working with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). She quickly proved instrumental in the Foundation’s efforts to improve the standards of nursing education worldwide. In 1931 she was named Associate Director of the RF’s International Health Division (IHD). In this role, Beard investigated nursing education in both Europe and Asia and develpoed new programs to improve training in these regions. One of these programs involved creating opportunities for women from Europe and Asia to study nursing in North America, where they would receive the knowledge and skills necessary to train others in their home countries.
In 1938 Beard assumed the directorship of the American Red Cross Nursing Service and chairmanship of the Office of Defense Health and Welfare Service’s Subcommittee on Nursing, where she organized the education and assignment of nurses for wartime duty. She retired from the Red Cross in 1944 and died in New York City in 1946.
Mary Beard's officer's diaries are digitized and can be accessed through the Rockefeller Archive Center's online collections. Her papers can be accessed at Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.