February is African-American History Month – a time of year when we reflect upon the undeniable impact African Americans have had upon the United States. In celebration, we highlight some of the brilliant African-American nurses who have helped the healthcare industry get to where it is today. Here are some African Americans who helped shape nursing throughout the course of American history:
"The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened in 1908."
Did you know that Harriet Tubman was a nurse during the Civil War? According to Nursing 101, in addition to freeing hundreds of slaves in the 1800s, playing a large role in the abolitionist movement and being the first woman in the American history to lead a military expedition, Tubman also opened a nursing center for the elderly and poor. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened in 1908 after she purchased 25 acres near her home in New York. She worked there, caring for her patients until she became a patient herself in her 90s after getting pneumonia. This home is no longer in operation, but the building is a historical landmark that people can visit, according to the National Park Service.
Susie King Taylor
Susie King Taylor was born a slave in 1848 in Georgia. It was illegal for slaves to receive an education, but her grandmother's friend taught her how to read and write until she learned enough to teach other children, according to Minority Nurse. She was freed at the age of 14 and became the first black woman to teach at a school for former slaves in Georgia. Taylor married an officer in the Union army and served as a nurse during the Civil War while also teaching black soldiers how to read and write. Taylor also went on to be the only African-American woman to write and publish a memoir of her experience in the Civil War.
Mary Eliza Mahoney
At the age of 34, Mary Elizabeth Mahoney was the first African-American woman to graduate from nursing school and become a registered nurse in 1879. It wasn't an easy feat. According to the Associate's Degree in Nursing Guide, the students at the New England Hospital for Women and Children were required to work 16-hour shifts seven days a week for 16 months, and only three other students out of the 40 registered with Mahoney graduated.
Though racial tension and segregation was very high at the time, this didn't stop Mahoney from pursuing her goals. Being one of the only African-Americans in school wasn't anything new to her – she attended grade school at one of the first integrated schools in Boston. She had already dedicated 15 years to the healthcare industry before being accepted to nursing school. It wasn't just nursing that she was passionate about, though. Mahoney was also very invested in women's fights for equality and ended up being one of the first women to register to vote, at 76 years old, according to PBS. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.
"Osborne dedicated her life to paving the way for black nurses."
Estelle Massey Osborne
Estelle Massey Osborne dedicated her life to paving the way for black nurses. In addition to becoming the first African-American woman to earn a master's degree in the field, she also became the first African-American instructor at New York University in 1945 and played a role in doubling the amount of nursing training schools that accepted black students. In addition to working as a nurse and an assistant professor, she took on the role of a consultant for the National Nursing Council for War Services in an effort to lift the the Army and Navy's nursing color ban.
According to the American Nurses Association, Osborne served as president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, a member of the ANA Board of Directors and the National Urban League, and the first vice president of the National Council of Negro Women. To this day, a black nurse is awarded the Estelle M. Osborne each year to help her pursue her master's degree in nursing.
Betty Smith Williams
The National Black Nurses Association was founded in 1971 in an effort improve healthcare for African Americans. Betty Smith Williams founded the association alongside 11 other talented women. She served as the seventh president of the association as well. However, this wasn't the first impact she made in the nursing world. She was the first African American to get her nursing degree from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Ohio, and the first in California to teach at the college level, according to Case Western Reserve University.
Williams also co-founded the Council of Black Nurses and the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurses Associations. She holds a doctorate in public health and an M.S. in nursing from the University of California, an M.N. in nursing from Case Western Reserve University and a B.S. in zoology from Howard University. The UCLA School of Public Health launched the Betty Smith Williams Scholarship for for African American nurses pursuing their master's degree in 1989.