Looking Back: Black Nurses Struggle for Admission to Professional Schools

By Burnette, Georgia | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Looking Back: Black Nurses Struggle for Admission to Professional Schools


Burnette, Georgia, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Historically, African American nurses have had three strikes against them. They were Black, female and in a profession still striving for equality and respect within the medical community. The quest for respect and acceptance has been an uphill battle all the way, but fortunately things are moving in the right direction.

The history of nursing in America as taught in our schools usually begins with the story of Florence Nightingale and her assistants during the Crimean War. But women of all cultures have nursed the sick from time immemorial. Nursing was simply another aspect of family life. If by chance one became particularly adept at the task, word of these skills became known throughout the community and that person was called upon in special circumstances.

When I attended nursing school during the 1950's, the history and struggles of Black nurses were accorded a few pages, if any at all, in most texts. According to Althea Davis in her book, Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: (2)

           Nursing history as presented in the past taught only selected
       aspects of nursing history while excluding Black nursing leaders
       and Black nurses experience, as evidenced in nursing history
       texts. On rare occasions these texts included fleeting attention
       to or inaccurate information about Black nurses. But nurse
       historians and historians have begun to fill the void.

Over time as values changed and legislation was enacted, nursing texts began to include a broader and more enlightened scope of information about the Black nurse and her struggle for acceptance into the larger professional medical community.

Nevertheless, the history of Black nurses cannot be told in isolation, since cultural values of the time heavily impacted the struggle. In 1776, the statement by our founding fathers, "all men are created equal," did not apply to women. For most of the 19th century wives were considered little more than property. Women were considered unsuitable for intellectual pursuits, thus marriage and childbearing were deemed their primary function. Females of the time had few options, and were denied the right to vote until passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. (3)

LEGISLATION AND BLACK AMERICANS

The Black population of slaves, however, had no rights at all. Indeed in the Dred-Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court held that Blacks were not citizens of the United States and thus were not entitled to enjoy constitutional rights. Later, for purposes of determining the number of legislators each state could send to the House of Representatives, the Constitution in 1787, declared a slave as 3/5 a person. (4) During Reconstruction, however, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) extended citizenship to African Americans with governmental protection. But that promise was negated with the Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which stated the principle of "separate but equal" did not violate the Constitution.

           This decision forced African Americans to remain second-class
       citizens by allowing the South to continue to enforce segregation
       by law in schools, housing, jobs, transportation, public parks,
       and public hospitals. After Plessy, the rights of Blacks were
       placed at the mercy of state governments for the next fifty
       years. (5)

CARE OF THE SICK

Nursing during early times was simply the care of the sick by family members, or by slaves in the South. Some religious orders assumed that burden as their calling, specifically the Sisters of Mercy, who had charge of Illinois' first hospital in 1849. (6) By and large, however, before the turn of the century "nurses," both Black and White, were untrained. Their care consisted of comfort measures, poultices and wraps of heat and cold plus the compounding of herbs and potions to help their patients.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Looking Back: Black Nurses Struggle for Admission to Professional Schools
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?