Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is a month to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. Let's remember and recognize those who have made significant contributions to the world of nursing. Although there are MANY Black women in nursing we should know about, here are five that played a vital role as caregivers and healers in their era.
Mary Seacole is known for her medical work in the Crimean War. She was a British-Jamaican nurse and businesswoman who created the British Hotel for sick and recovering soldiers. Mary was forgotten about in history after her death in 1881. It was only in 1980 that historians rediscovered her extraordinary story.
Mary Mahoney graduated from the New England School of Nursing in 1879 and became the first Black registered nurse in the US. She was 1 of 3 students to graduate from the program, initially starting with 40 students. In 1903 the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was established, with the help of Mahoney. The Mary Mahoney Award is considered one of any nurse's top honors.
A nurse and educator denied admission to Chester County Hospital School of Nursing for being black. She then attended Harlem School of Nursing. She served as a nurse in the US Army from 1955 to 1983. She became the first Black female general in the US Army AND the first Black chief of the US Army Nurse Corps in 1979.
Harriet Tubman is well-known in history for escaping slavery and becoming a leading abolitionist, but very few people know she was also an incredible nurse. She cared for the sick people she rescued from the underground railroad and led them to freedom. She then became a nurse in the Union Army, caring for thousands of ill and injured soldiers - both black and white.
Mabel Keaton-Staupers fought publicly to include Black nurses in the Army and Navy during World War II. In 1945, the Army Forces Nurses Corps opened its doors to all qualified applicants because of her regardless of race. She then worked to combat the tuberculosis outbreak in African Americans by establishing the Booker T. Washington Sanatorium.
The support for African American nurses has come a long way, such as establishing the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA). The NBNA serves as "the voice for Black nurses and diverse populations ensuring equal access to professional development, promoting educational opportunities and improving health" (NBHA, Inc.).
Throughout history, many Black nurses did not receive any support or advocacy during their time. This month (and every month), we recognize their incredible contributions to advancing the field of nursing.