Academic journal article ABNF Journal

St. Agnes School of Nursing: A Legacy of Hope

Academic journal article ABNF Journal

St. Agnes School of Nursing: A Legacy of Hope

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article traces the beginning of African Americans in the nursing profession in the state of North Carolina with particular emphasis on the origin and demise of the St. Agnes School of Nursing at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, NC.

Key Words: African Americans; St. Agnes School of Nursing; African Americans in Nursing; Nursing and African Americans in North Carolina

After the completion of the Civil War, much of the south lay in ruins. The economy which was based on Confederate currency was in shambles. Reacting to Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831, the North Carolina legislature made teaching enslaved people to read and write a crime punishable by fines, whipping and incarceration. Because of these atrocities, the literacy rate for African Americans was estimated at between five and ten percent. Social institutions existing prior to the war, including schools and churches were gone or changed so much that they were almost unrecognizable. War widows, orphans, disabled veterans and newly freed slaves had to reconstruct their lives under these trying circumstances.

During this period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, many northern religious and philanthropic groups aided by the Federal government began building new kinds of programs and institutions in the former confederate states. Educating newly freed African Americans was a goal shared by many of these northern reformers. The ability to read write and 'cipher' helped provide access to a variety of jobs as well as power to ensure fairness in their business and personal affairs. Colleges and graduate schools were needed to educate African American lawyers, doctors, professors, nurses, business leaders, ministers and other professionals to serve the needs in African American communities.

In 1867, white northern reformers from the Protestant Episcopal Church arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, (NC), to open St. Augustines's, a school for African Americans. The school was chartered in July 1867 and accepted its first students in January 1868. No tuition was charged. Board was set at $8.00 per month. Students from the capital city of Raleigh and surrounding counties came to St. Augustine's to get an elementary and high school education. With help from public and private supporters, the school grew and expanded. In 1896, on the campus of St. Augustine's, the St. Agnes School of Nursing opened. It was the first school of nursing in the state of NC for African American students (Halliburton, 1937).

Professional nursing in NC traces its origins in the United States to the Civil War. For the first time, women on both sides of the conflict organized themselves into professional nursing corps. They learned through close observation and trial and error how the diet, cleanliness, positioning, and atmosphere in the wards influenced the outcomes of illness and injury (Donahue, 1985). Many white women learned management, public relations and administrative skills in War time hospitals. Innovations in medicine, surgery and pharmacology, in addition to the art of nursing practice were made available to the civilian population after the War. In the decades after the Civil War, general hospitals opened in great numbers across the country. Many of these hospitals also served as training schools for nurses. NC reflected these national trends. In the 1880's and I 890's hospitals, often with training schools for nurses, opened for white people in most of NC's largest towns including Raleigh, Wilmington, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Asheville (Wyche, 1938).

Until 1896, there were no nursing schools that African American women could attend. One hospital in the state, Leonard, in Raleigh, was established in the 1880's to serve African American patients. Leonard had an affiliated medical school but no program to train nurses. There were great unmet needs for health care as well as nurses training facilities in the state. …

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