Influential Nurses- Celebrating Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, I am sharing three nurses who contributed greatly to the nursing profession. These nurses, along with countless others, overcame oppression and prejudice to break down barriers for nurses of all backgrounds. They lead the way to move our profession forward and for nursing to become inclusive of all people. Let us all take a moment this month to appreciate the amazing African-American nurses who came before us, and to continue to grow the nurse profession.

Harriet Tubman (1819(?)-1913)

Harriet Tubman is well known for her work in freeing slaves through the Underground Railroad, but Tubman also acted as a nurse for the Union in the Civil War. Tubman used home remedies she learned from her mother to treat dysentery, smallpox, and other diseases. In 1862, Tubman went to South Carolina to nurse and teach the Gullah people who had been abandoned. In 1865, she was appointed matron of a hospital in Virginia, where she cared for sick and wounded black soldiers.

Tubman never received pension for her time as a nurse. Despite the U.S. Secretary of State, William H. Seward, petitioning to Congress for Tubman to recieve a nurse’s pension for her work during the war- her claim was denied. Her widow’s pension was increased due to her personal service, but this was the extent of acknowledgment for her work as a nurse in the war. In 1908, the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly was built on property next to her farm in New York. Tubman cared for the residents until her death in 1913.

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Although there were many African-American nurses before Mary Mahoney, she was the first African-American to graduate from a nursing program and hold a professional nursing license. 42 students, including Mahoney, were admitted into the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses. Mahoney was one of only three people in her class to complete the 16 month program and graduate in 1878. Mahoney became a private nurse and also was an early member of what would later become the American Nurse Association (ANA.) In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Outside of nursing, she was a supporter of women’s suffrage and was one of the first woman to register to vote in Boston at the age of 76.

Goldie Brangman 

Goldie Brangman, CRNA, MBA was a pioneer of the Nurse Anesthesia profession. Brangman founded the Harlem School Center School of Anesthesia and was the program director for 34 years. While working as a Nurse Anesthetist at Harlem Hospital, she served on the surgical team and delivered anesthesia to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after he was stabbed in New York City. She later became the first African-American CRNA President of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists in 1973. In 2008, Brangman retired and was a volunteer for the American Red Cross for over 25 years. She also was a guest speaker for the Diversity CRNA Information session encouraging woman of color to be active in the state and national nurse anesthesia associations and to purse doctorate degrees.