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Ana Néri

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Nurse, War volunteer

Ana Néri

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 29/11/2016

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Ana Justina Ferreira was born on 13 December 1814, in the street Rua da Matriz, located in the village of Cachoeira do Paraguaçu (or Vila de Nossa Senhora de Cachoeira) in Bahia to Luísa Maria das Virgens and José Ferreira de Jesus. She married at the age of 23 to Isidoro Antônio Néri, a commander in the Navy, and changed her name to Ana Justina Ferreira Néri.

With her husband constantly at sea, Ana became accustomed to being responsible for all the family expenses. And because of a sad twist of fate, Isidoro died aboard the brig Três de Maio in Maranhão, leaving her a widow at the age of 29 and with three young children to educate: Justiniano, Antônio Pedro and Isidoro Antônio Néri Filho. Alone, she enabled the older two to graduate in medicine, while the youngest followed a military career.

In 1865, with the formation of the Triple Alliance (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay), Brazil fought against Paraguay in the historic Paraguayan War, and Anna’s children were drafted by the army to fight on the frontlines. Greatly affected by this, she sent an official letter to the provincial president asking for a position in the war as a nurse, citing two main reasons: first, the pain caused by the separation from her children; and secondly, the desire to alleviate the suffering of combatants.

At age 51 and without waiting for the response to her plea, Ana Néri travelled to Rio Grande do Sul, and there learnt the basic principles of nursing with the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. On 13 August 1865, looking to care for the sick and wounded, the woman from Bahia departed for the battle front with the army of volunteers, becoming the first female nurse in the country.

Because of her great courage, devotion, love for her neighbours and knowledge of herbal medicine, and despite the lack of decent working conditions, Ana Néri remained for almost five years on the front, drawing attention as a nurse everywhere she went. It should be noted that in addition to her children, two of her brothers fought in the war: lieutenant colonels Manuel Jerônimo and Joaquim Maurício Ferreira. On the battlefield, the nurse lost a son and a nephew.

With her own resources inherited from her family, Ana Néri set up a model nursing station in Asuncion (Paraguay’s capital), a city that was besieged by the Brazilian army.

At the end of the war, she returned to Brazil with three young orphans – children of soldiers that went missing in the fighting – and educated them as if they were her legitimate children. Touched by this, Dom Pedro II granted her a medal and a lifetime pension so that the children could have a good quality of life.

For her services to Brazilian soldiers, Ana Néri received warm display of affection from the people of Rio de Janeiro: a shower of rose petals and a golden crown studded with diamonds, on which was engraved:

À heroína da caridade, as baianas agradecidas.
[To the heroine of charity, the Bahia grateful]

The crown is today kept in the Bahia State Museum. Vítor Meireles painted her life-size portrait, which is on display at the Brazilian Red Cross; and Ana received an album with the following dedication:

Tributo de admiração à caridosa baiana por damas patriotas.
[A tribute of admiration to the caring woman from Bahia by patriotic ladies]

Ana Néri arrived in Bahia on 5 July 1870, was awarded with the medals of Humaitá and Campanha, and occupies a place of honour in Salvador’s City Chambers. Thanks to her vanguard approach, doctor and Professor Carlos Chagas, director of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, name the first Brazilian nursing school, which was of a high standard, after her. Also, President Getúlio Vargas constituted 12 May as Nurses’ Day, through Decree no. 2,956. Finally, among other honours awarded, Rua da Matriz, where the heroine from Bahia was born, was renamed Rua Ana Néri.

On 20 May 1880, at age 66, Ana died in Rio de Janeiro, and was buried in São Francisco Xavier Cemetery.

As a fitting tribute in one of the most-visited places for tourists – Pelourinho, in Salvador – the Ana Néri Museum was created to share the most significant aspects of this illustrious Bahia woman’s life, and retrace the history of Brazilian nursing from the 19th century to the present.

Recife, 24 February 2005.
(Updated on 9 November 2008)
Translated by Peter Leamy, July 2016.

sources consulted

ANA Néri. Foto nesse texto. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 2 ago. 2016.

BIOGRAFIA de Ana Néri: – a matriarca da Enfermagem. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 30 jan. 2005.

DECRETO n. 2.956 – Dia do enfermeiro. Disponível em: Acesso em: 9 nov. 2008.

PACHECO, Paulino. Ana Néri, a mãe dos brasileiros. Disponível em:<http://www.rcristãão/ananeri.html>. Acesso em: 30 jan. 2005.

SCHUMAHER, Shuma; BRAZIL, Érico Vital (Org.). Dicionário mulheres do Brasil: de 1500 até a atualidade.  Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2000.

SILVA, Fernando Correia da. Ana Néri, matriarca da enfermagem no Brasil: 1814-1880. Disponível em: Acesso em: 9 nov. 2008.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Ana Néri. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.