NEW YORK NURSE: January-February 2011
by Robin Wood
During Black History Month, we remember the heroes who have worked to improve their lives and ours, including the everyday heroes, who have worked to make things just a bit better in our communities and workplaces. Black nurses have had a long and influential role in the development of the nursing profession. NYSNA also has a long history of black nurses, and their colleagues of all races and ethnicities, working to promote equality and improve patient care. One of the first was Jessie Sleet, the nation’s first black public health nurse, who was also a charter member of NYSNA.
The first paid executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, Mabel Staupers was remembered by her contemporaries as a staunch and effective advocate for integration in New York City hospitals. In an excerpt of an interview for the New York State Nurses Association Oral History Project in 1999, Iris Gilmore-Brice recalled Stauper’s advocacy, “[She] was instrumental in getting me and six of my graduate colleagues assigned to white hospitals for the first time.”
But, Staupers is perhaps best remembered for her efforts to integrate the ranks of military nurses during WWII. In Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future, author Julie Pavri recounts the story of how Staupers took advantage of the possibility of a general nurse draft to challenge the restrictive quotas that prevented black nurses who wanted to serve from doing so. Inducted into the American Nurses Association (ANA) Hall of Fame in 1996, seven years after her death, Staupers was also a key leader in fully integrating the ANA.
Remembered as the first black nurse to be appointed to the New York State Board for Nursing, Ivy Nathan Tinkler was a leader in nursing education. After graduating from the Lincoln School for Nurses in 1931, she returned years later as the school’s first black director of education. The Lincoln School, which was housed at Lincoln Hospital in Manhattan and closed in 1961, was one of the first black nursing schools in the country. After the school closed, Tinkler was director of nursing service at Lincoln Hospital until her retirement in 1970.
Both Staupers and Tinkler are recognized with limited edition commemorative pins produced by the Bellevue Alumnae Center for Nursing History at Foundation of New York State Nurses. Remembering the nursing profession’s pioneers is important because “each generation builds on the struggles, successes and failures of the previous generations,” said Gertrude B. Hutchinson, archivist at the Bellevue Alumnae Center for Nursing History. “We stand on their shoulders and honor their commitments to breaking down the walls of segregation within the nursing profession and our society as a whole.”