Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Esther McCready, RN: Nursing Advocate for Civil Rights

Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Esther McCready, RN: Nursing Advocate for Civil Rights

Article excerpt

Expectations of nurses working towards social justice are supported by organizations such as the International Council of Nurses, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Nurses Association, the World Health Organization, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and are inherent to the Nurses Code of Ethics (American Nurses Association fANAI. 20151. While concern for equality is currently expected, it has not always been forefront to nursing organizations and institutions of higher education. Studying the eras prior to the Civil Rights Movement, during which time discrimination based on race, gender, and other factors was both legal and accepted as the cultural norm, can inform current efforts to eliminate health disparities. As Stuart (20101 noted, nurses may be inspired to work towards change by studying nurses in earlier times who persistently challenged unfair laws, policies, and practices. Knowledge of nursing history is a vital part of becoming an informed and responsive professional. As Lynaugh explained:

What happens in the present is not an accident. It has a past. In order to understand and change contemporary health system problems, nurse historians examine how these problems emerged, how they influence the present, and how to use that knowledge to design better systems for the future (D'Antonio & Fairman, 2010, p,113).

This story of one courageous, but largely unrecognized, nurse and pioneer Civil Rights advocate, Esther McCready, provides an inspirational example of what nurses are capable of accomplishing if we remain dedicated and true to our principles. More than a decade before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as an African American teenager from Baltimore, Maryland, Esther McCready challenged the discriminatory admissions policies of the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON). Her actions eventually resulted in the formation of numerous separate schools of nursing for African Americans across the south. This article recounts the powerful impact Esther McCready's actions had on creating opportunities for nursing education during a time when they were severely limited for African American women. While scholars have given attention to the ways that health advocacy was integrally tied to the work of advancing Civil Rights, Esther McCready's important contributions have been mostly absent from these narratives (Carnegie & Dolan. 1991: Hiñe, 1989).

The purposes of this article are to honor the life and work of McCready, hoping her story will inspire nurses today to become social justice advocates, and to describe past struggles of racial segregation and subsequent challenges towards racial integration of nursing schools and healthcare agencies. This article also explores nurse advocacy and how Esther McCready advocated for herself and greater racial equity in nursing education during a time of civil rights turmoil. A review of relevant court cases and policies related to segregation and integration of higher education in the mid-twentieth century is presented, along with the experiences of McCready's professional life following acceptance into UNMSON. Finally, I will discuss the consequences of McCready's actions on racial integration of nursing education in the southern states.

Nurse Advocacy

McCready's pursuit for entrance into the segregated UMSON is reflective of the Canadian Nurses Association's definition of advocacy as:

... engaging others, exercising voice and mobilizing evidence to influence policy and practice. It means speaking out against inequity and inequality. It involves participating directly and indirectly in political processes and acknowledges the important roles of evidence, power and politics in advancing policy options. (Canadian Nurse, n.d.. p.l)

Professional nurses have a long, proud history of advocating for their patients, social justice, and the profession (Mathews. 2012 & Mahlin, 2010). …

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