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History of Black Nursing

 James Derham  Mary Eliza Mahony

Throughout the history of the United States, black women have nursed our nation during slavery, war and peace. While taking care of their own families and other slaves they nursed the sick and breast-fed the babies of the families that owned them. Even though the term nurse was not used it was clear that their actions were within the range of nursing.

Before the Civil War there were both black men and black women nurses. In 1783, James Derham, a black nurse from New Orleans, was able to buy his freedom from slavery with the money he saved from working as a nurse. He later went on to become a well known physician in Philadelphia. He is known for becoming the first black physician in America. Mary Williams and Frances Rose were two black nurses whose names were in the 1840 Baltimore City directory. In 1879 Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first black graduate from an American school of nursing. She became the first professional black nurse in the United States by graduating from the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston.

With the formation of a nursing program at Spelman Seminary (now Spelman College) in Atlanta, the first formal education solely for black nurses began in 1886. In 1891 at Provident Hospital in Chicago, pioneer black surgeon Dr. Daniel Hale Williams founded the first hospital school of nursing for black women. Black nurses joined together in 1908 to form their own organization, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). They disbanded in 1951 when they were assured by the American Nurses Association (ANA) that black nurses would be accepted as equals. Since then two black nurses served as two-term ANA presidents.

Today, black nurses work at all professional levels: elected official in Congress, appointed positions in the military and government, as university presidents, and as hospital executives. Nursing is an evolving and growing profession thanks in part to the significant contributions made by black nurses along the way.

Links to the History of Black Nursing

Black Nurses in History: A Bibliography and Guide to Web Resources
Brief History of Black Women in the Military
African-American Nurses: Organizing the Profession for African American Nurses
African American Nurses

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