Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845 – 1926)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • After working for 15 years at the New England Hospital for Women and Children as a janitor, cook and washer woman, was admitted to the hospital’s training program for professional nurses, becoming the first African-American licensed nurse in 1879.
  • Worked as a private nurse until 1911.
  • Joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC), which later became known as the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1896.
  • Because of ongoing discrimination against African-American nurses, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908 to advocate for the rights of African-American nurses.
  • After the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920, Mahoney was among the first women who registered to vote in Boston.

More information here and here and here and here and here.

Vernice Doris Ferguson (1928 – 2012)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • At a time when few black women attended college, she graduated from New York University with a nursing degree in 1950 and was awarded the Lavinia L. Dock prize for high scholastic standing.
  • Fought for greater opportunities, higher wages and more respect for nurses as chief nursing officer for the Veterans Administration from 1980 – 1992.
  • Pushed for nurses to be freed from such activities as making beds d answering phones, so that they could focus on patient care.
  • Fought to obtain for nurses the same access to scholarship money and training as physicians in the VA.
  • Promoted nursing research and organized a network of nurse researchers at the VA.
  • During her tenure at the V.A., the number of nurses with a baccalaureate degree more than doubled, and nurses salaries almost tripled – an achievement that had a ripple effect nationwide.
  • Served as president of the American Academy of Nursing from 1981 to 1983.
  • Served as president of Sigma Theta Tau from 1985 to 1987.

More information here and here and here and here.

M. Elizabeth Carnegie (1916 – 2008)

Inspiration for Activism!

  •  Tireless commitment to the advancement of the nursing profession and the advancement of Black and other minority nurses.

    CREDIT: Howard University photo CAPTION: Dr. M. Elizabeth Carnegie.

  • First Black nurse to serve on a board of a state nursing association (Florida State Nurses Association).
  • Founded the four-year nursing program at Hampton University in 1943, and then from 1945 to 1953, she was dean of Florida A&M University’s School of Nursing (both historically Black Universities).
  • Took personal stands against discrimination early in her career — refused to ride in the freight elevator at Florida State Nursing meetings; insisted on being addressed by her title (as were all White nurses) at a time when Black nurses were only addressed as “Nurse” (not as “Miss Carnegie” or any other title).
  • Longtime member of the American Association for the History of Nursing; unfailingly alerted members to the contributions of African American nurses on any topic under discussion.
  • Author of three editions of “The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1854-1994.”
  • On the Editorial Staff of the American Journal of Nursing from 1953-1978.
  • Editor of Nursing Research from 1973-1978.
  • During the 30 years after her retirement in 1978, she remained active as a consultant, author, visiting professor and advocate for African American and other minority nurses.

More information here and here and here

Kitty Ernst (1926 – )

Inspiration for Activism!

  • A pioneer in both the field of midwifery and in developing the best care possible for families in pregnancy and birth for over 40 years.
  • Served independently as a consultant, lecturer and parent educator, teaching some of the first childbirth education groups of the International Childbirth Education Association.
  • Tireless advocate of innovation for the sake of healthy families and family-centered maternity care.
  • Inspired many birth centers in the effort to bring birth centers into the mainstream of health care delivery.
  • Helped to institute the Commission for Accreditation of Freestanding Birth Centers.
  • Led the design and implementation of the first distance education program for nurse-midwives,

More information here and here and here.



Florence S. Wald (1917 – 2008)

Inspiration for Activism!

  • Began her nursing career at the Henry Street Settlement in New York.
  • Served in the Signal Corps during World War II. 
  • Became Dean of the Yale University School of Nursing in 1958; resigned as Dean in 1968 to study the British approach to care for the terminally ill.
  • Opened the first hospice in the United States in 1971.
  • Initiated training for inmates in Connecticut to become hospice volunteers for dying inmates, an approach that became a model for prisons worldwide.
More Information here and here and here and here and here and here.