Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

By George, Valerie D.; Bradford, Dorothy M. et al. | Nursing and Health Care Perspectives, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow


George, Valerie D., Bradford, Dorothy M., Battle, Alice, Nursing and Health Care Perspectives


Transitioning Through Time with the Cleveland Council of Black Nurses

Children, I come back today To tell you a story of the long dark way That I had to climb, That I had to know In order that the race might live and grow.

From "The Negro Mother," Langston Hughes

THE STORY OF THE CLEVELAND COUNCIL OF BLACK NURSES, as for black nurses throughout the United States, is one of isolation, stigmatism, and injustice. Time is an important element in the development of professional organizations. This article chronicles the history of the CCBN from the events of three separate points in time -- the advent of segregation, the dissolution of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), and the programmatic thrust of the American Nurses Association (ANA). * We discuss political and social issues in terms of "windows of opportunity" -- openings to pursue alternatives for changing the status quo. The experiences of African-American nurses in the United States are inextricably bound to significant social and professional events that were intended to provide windows of opportunity for professional nursing and the assurance of equity for all nurses. However, that was not to be the case for African-American nurses.

Yesterday, Our Heritage

THE CLEVELAND COUNCIL OF BLACK NURSES, INC. was chartered as a chapter of the National Black Nurses Association in 1972 and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in the state of Ohio in 1981. Its existence is inextricably linked to the experience of African-Americans in the Unites States and the history of the major nursing organizations we know today.

Lost in time, space, and archival collections are the stories of such "colored" women as Mary Seacole, a Jamaican, who nursed British, French, Russian, and Sardinian soldiers during the Crimean War; Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Susie Taylor, who nursed soldiers during the Civil War; and Namahyoke Sockum Curtis, who served as a contract nurse during the Spanish-American War. A review of nursing history texts will show that "Negro" nurses are rarely mentioned as contributors to the development of the profession. (The term Negro is used in this article to reflect the attitudes of the historical period under discussion.)

Mary Eliza Mahoney is usually identified as the first "black trained nurse" to graduate from the New England Hospital for Women and Children. She was one of 40 students admitted in her class and one of three to graduate, on August 1, 1879. Before that school closed in 1951, only six other known blacks completed the program -- Josephine Braxton, Kittie Toliver, Ann Dillit, Roxie Dentz Smith, Lavinia Holloway, and Laura Morrison Bayne (1). The school had a policy of admitting only one Negro and one Jew in each class. The low graduation rate is attributed to several factors, including the exclusionary policies of hospitals with which the school affiliated (2). With few exceptions (1-5), most authors of nursing history texts provide a minimal amount of information about Mahoney (6-10).

Prior to the 20th century, black women attended integrated nursing schools in the North. However, the institutionalization of segregation led many aspiring nurses, in both the North and the South, to attend nursing programs specifically organized for Negroes. These schools followed the pattern of nursing programs for whites and were founded by, or affiliated with, hospitals. The first such schools were Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (Spelman College), 1891; Provident Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, 1891; Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 1892; Howard University in Washington, DC, 1893; Freedmens Hospital in Washington, DC, 1894; and Lincoln School for Nurses in New York City, 1898. Between 1886 and 1977, 77 schools for Negroes were established in 20 states and Washington, DC (1).

Many of these schools were characterized as substandard by nursing leaders of the era because they did not have adequate resources to provide quality educational programs. …

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