Ellen Louise Brient, pioneer organizer of Texas nurses, daughter of Alfred and Louisa Brient, was born in West Drayton, England, in 1882. The family moved to San Antonio, Texas, when she was sixteen months old. Ellen attended public schools and Trinity Methodist Church. After a brief study in a Fort Worth University, she enrolled as a student at John Sealy Hospital School of Nursing in 1902 in Galveston. At that time this school was the only one in the state with a nursing department at the university level. After completing the two-year program, she returned to San Antonio in 1904.
She did private-duty nursing for six years. Subsequently, working with a small group of other graduate nurses in the early 1900s, she organized what became District 8 of the Texas Graduate Nurses' Association. Nineteen nurses from over the state met in Fort Worth on February 22, 1907, to formulate a bill for the Texas legislature. Ellen Brient attended a meeting on June 3 in Houston, at which time a nurse-practice act was developed. This bill was accepted in a nurses' meeting in San Antonio on April 20, 1908, and introduced to the state legislature in 1909; it was passed without amendments, and Texas became one of the first states to obtain protective nurse legislation.
After a stay in El Paso to care for her mother, Miss Brient returned to San Antonio to find that the local nurses' organization had been discontinued. Many times she and Margerie M. Taylor, superintendent of Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, were the only two who attended the monthly meetings. But they kept at it, the nurses' association grew, and the work on nursing issues continued. Ellen Brient was among the first 3,000 nurses in the nation to enroll in the American Red Cross. She served as chairman of the Red Cross Nursing Service for her district in World War I. Later she taught Red Cross classes in hygiene and home care. She served as operating-room supervisor and later as the superintendent of nurses at the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, where she became aware that a small hospital without teaching facilities could not give nursing students the education they needed. She prepared to close the school and launched her idea of an all-graduate nursing staff, but then was forced to resign again to care for her mother.
The Revised Nurse's Registration Bill was passed by the legislature in 1923, after vigorous opposition. Only by great effort on the part of several nursing leaders, particularly Miss Brient, did the bill pass. As a result a number of small, inadequate training schools, where female students were exploited as cheap labor and were poorly trained, were closed.
Brient became superintendent of nursing at Nix Memorial Hospital in San Antonio in 1929 and was director of nurses for that 150-bed private hospital for seventeen years. During the Great Depression the school was near bankruptcy, but it nevertheless became one of the first hospitals with an all-graduate nursing staff. Ellen Brient attended all of the meetings of the Texas Nurses Association, some years serving as member of the board of directors or on some important committee. She was president in 1914–15, 1919–20, 1926–27, and 1931–32, the only one to serve four terms. In April 1932 she gave the welcoming address for her state group at the Biennial Convention of Nurses, held in San Antonio. This meeting was attended by 2,670 graduate nurses from forty states, including members from the American Nurses Association, the National League of Nursing, and the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. Ellen Brient retired in 1946 and was honored by Nix Hospital doctors and nurses. She died in San Antonio on January 28, 1958, and was buried in the family plot in City Cemetery No. 4. Many nurses who trained or worked under her attended in uniform and served as honorary pallbearers at her funeral. The Ellen Louise Brient Scholarship Loan Fund was established by District 8, Texas Nurses Association, in her memory.
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Eleanor McElheny Crowder, Nursing in Texas: A Pictorial History (Waco: Texian Press, 1980). A. Louise Dietrich et al., History of the Texas Graduate Nurses' Association (El Paso: Hughes-Buie, 1932). San Antonio Express, January 29, 1958. Texas Graduate Nurses' Association Bulletin, March 1958.
Health and Medicine
Nurses and Nurse Administrators
Texas in the 1920s
World War II
Texas Post World War II
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Arvella B. Vowell,
“Brient, Ellen Louise,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: