Nursing as a profession was one of the first jobs that appealed to women around the world once they were given the rights to education and to work rather than being housewives.
Several women were encouraged to go into the nursing profession which they believed came easily to them due to their caring and nurturing nature.
Black women who found themselves in lands where slavery was prominently faced more challenges with being able to access education or work.
By the 16th century, black women were not only kept on the plantation but also forced to be domestic workers in their masters’ homes. Several enslaved women were assigned to wives of plantation owners to help them with domestic work and raise their children while the white women attended to things they found more significant.
After a while, female slaves were made to take the place of low-class women who were paid to breastfeed babies, a practice known as wet nursing. The practice became very popular in Europe in the 17th century and found its way into America.
Even after the abolition of slavery, black women still faced challenges finding their way into the professional scene especially in nursing where there was much demand.
Here are 4 black women who despite the many challenges became nurses and paved the way for several nurses all over the world today:
Mary was born in Jamaica to a black mother and a Scottish father in 1805 but moved to England during World War 1 in 1854. She requested to be sent as a nurse to Crimea where many soldiers were dying because of poor medication and facilities, but she was rejected. Upon rejection, Mary travelled to Crimea and set up a hotel called the British Hotel and with time, Mary became the most sought-after nurse in Crimea with a reputation for healing all sorts of deadly wounds. Many wounded soldiers were sent to her hotel, and she visited the battlefield during dangerous times to cater for the sick. She soon became known as Mother Seacole, the black Florence Nightingale.
Mary Eliza Mahoney
In 1879, at the age of 44, Mary Eliza Mahoney made history as the first African-American woman to become a professionally trained nurse in the USA. Prior to her qualification, African American women were not allowed to work as nurses and only a few worked in the army as volunteers mainly as nurse assistants despite the title they were given. After working as a maid and cook for close to 15 years, Mary was accepted into the New England Hospital for Women and Children despite not meeting the age criteria. Mary overcame racial barriers and worked for several white families as a personal nurse. In 1908, she co-founded the National Association for Colored Graduate Nurses to help build a community and support black nurses.
Mabel Keaton Staupers
Originally a Barbadian, Mabel Keaton Staupers became an American after her parents moved to New York where she grew up and became a professional nurse in 1917. Mabel K. Staupers is largely celebrated for her efforts in ending the exclusion of African American nurses from the United States Army ranks. A policy that had lasted for several years. She is also responsible for the integration of the American Nurses Association after a successful lobby in 1948.
Susie King Taylor
Susie Taylor, as she is popularly known is recognized as the first black army nurse when she was recruited to cater for the all Black Army troop and then later assigned to the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Although she dedicated her time and life to the army, Susie was never paid for her work as she was registered as a volunteer. She was born a slave on a plantation in 1848 and died in 1912 leaving behind her memoir Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers recorded as the only African American woman’s documentation of war experiences.