About Frances Payne Bolton

Frances Payne Bolton Portrait

Health Care Reformer, Congresswoman, Philanthropist

Frances Payne Bolton—the namesake of Case Western Reserve University’s nursing school—was Ohio’s first congresswoman and a supporter of nursing, health and education initiatives.
Born in Cleveland on March 29, 1885, to Charles William (a prominent banker-industrialist) and Mary Perry Payne Bingham, Frances Payne Bolton always had a commitment to helping others.

As a young girl, she belonged to a club in which she and her friends made and sold souvenirs and sent the proceeds to poor residents of the Appalachian region. By the time the club’s members were 18, they adopted the Visiting Nurse Association as their charity and made the nurses dressings and bandages to use when they made house calls. But she was not satisfied with making the dressings; instead, she started traveling with the nurses when they visited patients. This experience helped her develop a philosophy she carried with her throughout life: “You must give something to someone to be happier, especially when that gift is your own time and strength.”

She married Chester C. Bolton in 1907 and eventually had three sons: Charles Bingham, Oliver Payne (member, United States House of Representatives, 1953–1957 and 1963–1965) and Kenyon Castle. The same year of her marriage, she was invited to speak at a Lakeside Hospital Board of Trustees meeting on the subject of living and working conditions of nurses. Her presentation impressed the board so much that Samuel Mather gave the money to expand the nurses' residence by adding two extra floors to the dormitory at old Lakeside in 1911. Her advocacy for the profession continued during World War I when she was instrumental in persuading Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to set up an Army School of Nursing rather than relying on untrained volunteers.

Bolton was appointed to the Board of Lady Managers of Old Lakeside School of Nursing and, in 1921, she was appointed to the Board of Trustees of Lakeside Hospital.
Two years later, she contributed funds to establish and endow the School of Nursing at Western Reserve University—a donation that enabled the university to raise the School of Nursing from a department of the College of Women to the rank of a separate college at the university, one of the first in the nation. In June 1935, the school was renamed the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in honor of her continued support and interest.

In 1939, Frances Payne Bolton’s husband died while serving as a Republican congressman from Cleveland’s 22nd District. Mrs. Bolton served out his term and, in a special election in 1940, she won the seat in her own right, becoming the first congresswoman from Ohio.

Frances Payne Bolton

Highlights of her political career

  • In 1942, she introduced a bill that became law, giving nurses in the military regular officer status, including pay equal with that of male officers. Prior to that, they held the same rank and received less pay and fewer privileges.
  • In 1943, she promoted the Nurse Cadet Corps, known as the Bolton Act, which has been called "the most significant nursing legislation in our time." It was the largest experiment in federally subsidized education in the history of the country at that time, and it represented the most dramatic example of the war's intensification of the relationship between nursing and the federal government.
  • In 1951, she renewed the effort to provide federal aid to nursing education, but, being opposed by the American Medical Association and the representatives of hospital schools of nursing, it did not pass.
  • In 1955, she sponsored the equal rights bill to eliminate discrimination against male nurses who, prior to that time, served as enlisted men and were not permitted to function as nurses. When the bill passed, male nurses were commissioned as officers and became members of the Army and/or Navy Nurse Corps.
  • In 1964, the Nurse Training Act was passed, after perseverance by Mrs. Bolton, to give nurses financial assistance for advanced education.

Despite all her time in Washington, Mrs. Bolton maintained personal contact with student nurses over the years, attending capping ceremonies, graduation exercises, teas and receptions at the school and even entertaining students at her home. 

Frances Payne Bolton Firsts

  • First congresswoman to be elected from Ohio and seventh woman to be a member of the House of Representatives
  • First woman member of Congress to represent the United States in the United Nations' General Assembly
  • First woman member of Congress to visit a war theater (1944)
  • First woman member to head a Congressional mission abroad (1947): Middle East, Soviet Union and Poland
  • First mother to sit in the same house of the same Congress with her son (1952)