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Recognizing African-American Nurses Who Led the Way

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The persistence, sacrifices, and success of pioneering African-American nurses did more than blaze a trail for the generations of those who followed them. They lifted the stature and professionalism of every nurse who followed in their paths.

During February’s celebration of Black History Month, Galen College of Nursing is highlighting the contributions of notable African-American figures in nursing. Knowing the obstacles they overcame, and the advancements they made, serves as an inspiration to all of us.

Sojourner Truth: More Than an Abolitionist

Isabella Baumfree – better known as her self-given name Sojourner Truth – was born into slavery in Ulster County, New York, in 1797.  Although Truth is widely known as an impassioned abolitionist who escaped slavery and advocated for the rights of women and African Americans, she originally served as a nurse to the Dumont family.

In her later years, Truth became a member of the National Freedman’s Relief Association, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans. Truth often spoke eloquently before Congress, promoting nursing education and training programs.

The Groundbreaking National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses

While the Civil War ended slavery, discrimination against African Americans continued for several decades. Mary Elizabeth Mahoney was no stranger to the indignities of racial strife. Mahoney was the first African-American woman to work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. She was also one of the first African-American members of the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States, which later evolved into the American Nurses Association (ANA).

Frustrated by the Nurses Associated’s unequal treatment of its African-American members, Mahoney, Adah B. Thoms and Martha Franklin, RN, founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908. Franklin became NACGN’s first president. The organization became a passionate crusader for integration and better opportunities for African-American nurses. As a result of the NACGN’s efforts, the number of African-American nurses doubled between 1910 and 1930. After years of its trailblazing efforts, the NACGN finally merged with the ANA in 1951.

There are many more African Americans who have made significant contributions to nursing. We need to remember and honor these pioneering figures. Check Galen College of Nursing’s Facebook page throughout the month of February to learn about some of the most notable contributors.



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