February is Black History Month, and we are recognizing Black nurses who are pioneers and trail blazers in the field.
One of Betty Smith Williams’, DrPH, RN, FAAN, most groundbreaking achievements was co-founding the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) in 1971 of which she has served as president. NBNA’s mission is to provide a forum for collective action by African American nurses to represent and provide a forum for black nurses to advocate for and implement strategies to ensure access to the highest quality of healthcare for persons of color.
Born in 1901, Estelle Massey Osborne became the first Black woman to earn a master’s degree in nursing. In 1943, Osborne became a consultant for the National Nursing Council for War Services helping get the color ban lifted from nursing in the US Army and Navy. She worked tirelessly to create opportunities for Black nurses including post-nursing school programs for nurses of color.
Hazel W. Johnson-Brown studied at the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, where she graduated in 1950, and later received her baccalaureate degree from Villanova university. She then joined the army, working in Japan and later Korea during her service. In the 1960s, she also trained Vietnam-bound surgical nurses. She became the first Black woman to be promoted to brigadier general and the first to head the 7,000-strong US Army Nurse Corps. In addition to her Harlem diploma, Johnson-Brown achieved a nursing bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and an educational administration PhD. She was awarded a number of distinguished military decorations in addition to being named Army Nurse of the Year twice.
Adah Belle Samuel Thoms was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1870. In 1905, she graduated from the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing, where the following year she became acting director for nearly two decades. She was instrumental in setting up the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and strove for the acceptance of black nurses into the American Red Cross and fought for equal opportunities for nurses in the US Army Nurse Corps.
These are just some of the leaders in the nursing field who should be honored for their work and accomplishments. Click here to celebrate and learn about more leaders in the field.