Mapping Care Project: The History of Black Nurses in Chicago

Black Nurses' Activism

When the nursing profession emerged after the Civil War, its leaders and institutions reflected the racial ideology that Black people were inferior. Black nurses were usually limited to treating Black patients in segregated hospitals or wards. In the early 1900’s, white nurses leaders pushed for states laws that required nurse licensing and registration. Many southern states forced Black nurses to take different licensing exams or refused to license them altogether, effectively shutting them out of most job opportunities. And when Black nurses could find work, they were usually paid less than white nurses for the same duties.

Black nurses would not accept this situation quietly. In 1908, Martha Minerva Franklin, a Black nurse leader, helped to organize the creation of the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN).

The NACGN tackled many injustices, fighting discriminatory licensing laws, working to improve the quality of Black nursing schools, and operating a registry to help Black nurses find work. The NACGN also partnered with groups like the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the National Council of Negro Women on campaigns for Black voting rights and against Jim Crow segregation laws.

Among the NACGN’s greatest victories was the passage of the 1943 Bolton Act and the 1945 integration of military nursing under the leadership of Mabel Staupers and Estelle Massey Riddle Osborne.

After the NACGN's dissolution in 1951, Black nurses continued to be fierce advocates for justice in American society - whether in their own working conditions or in the healthcare of the communities they served.

Continue reading to learn more about Black nurses' activism in Chicago.


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