The nursing profession owes much of its growth and development to the dedicated efforts of black nurses throughout history.
Despite facing countless obstacles and discrimination, these nurses worked tirelessly to provide compassionate care, advocate for their patients, and break down racial barriers in healthcare. In this article, we will celebrate the achievements of 25 inspiring black nurses who have made an indelible mark on the nursing profession and healthcare as a whole.
List of 25 Famous Black Nurses
Here is a list of 25 famous black nurses, along with a brief bio and a link to learn more about them:
- Mary Eliza Mahoney – Mahoney was the first black registered nurse in the United States, and paved the way for other black women to enter the nursing profession. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Eliza_Mahoney)
- Hazel W. Johnson-Brown – Johnson-Brown was the first black woman to become a general in the United States Army and was also the first black Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. She served during the Vietnam War and was a trailblazer for black women in the military. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazel_W._Johnson-Brown)
- Sojourner Truth – Although not a registered nurse, Sojourner Truth worked as a nurse during the Civil War and was known for her dedication to helping wounded soldiers. She was also a famous abolitionist and women’s rights activist. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sojourner_Truth)
- Mabel Keaton Staupers – Staupers was a nurse and activist who fought for the integration of black nurses into the United States Army Nurse Corps. Her advocacy led to the desegregation of the corps in 1948. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabel_Keaton_Staupers)
- Susie King Taylor – Taylor was a former slave who became a nurse during the Civil War, serving with the Union Army. She was the first black woman to publish a memoir of her experiences during the war. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susie_King_Taylor)
- Adah Belle Samuels Thoms – Thoms was the first black public health nurse in the United States, and worked tirelessly to improve healthcare for black families in Chicago. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adah_Belle_Samuels_Thoms)
- Jesse Sleet Scales – Scales was the first black public health nurse in the southern United States, and was known for her work with rural communities. She also helped to train other black nurses. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Sleet_Scales)
- Elizabeth Mahoney – Mahoney was the first black nurse to graduate from the New England Hospital for Women and Children, and later became the director of an orphanage for black children. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Mahoney)
- Martha Minerva Franklin – Franklin was the first black nurse to be elected to the American Nurses Association, and was a tireless advocate for black nurses and patients. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Minerva_Franklin)
- Mary Eliza Church Terrell – Terrell was a nurse, suffragist, and civil rights activist who fought for the rights of black women. She was also the first black woman to serve on the Washington, D.C. Board of Education. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Church_Terrell)
- Lillian Holland Harvey – Harvey was the first black woman to serve as a colonel in the United States Army Nurse Corps, and served in World War II and the Korean War. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillian_Harvey)
- Marjorie Robinson – Robinson was the first black nurse to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Nurse Corps, and served in World War II and the Korean War. She also helped to establish the National Black Nurses Association. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjorie_Robinson_(nurse))
- Joan Blackwell – Blackwell was the first black nurse to serve as a captain in the United States Army Nurse Corps, and served in Vietnam. She was known for her leadership and dedication to her patients. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Blackwell)
- Helen C. Newton – Newton was the first black nurse to receive a commission in the United States Navy Nurse Corps, and served during World War II. She also worked as a nurse in the United States Public Health Service. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_C._Newton)
- Muriel Poulin – Poulin was the first black nurse to serve as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy Nurse Corps, and served during the Vietnam War. She also helped to establish the National Black Nurses Association. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muriel_Poulin)
- Edith Irby Jones – Jones was the first black person to attend and graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School, and later became a successful physician and advocate for healthcare in underserved communities. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Irby_Jones)
- Hazel Johnson-Brown – Johnson-Brown was the first black woman to become a brigadier general in the United States Army, and served as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. She was known for her dedication to her patients and her leadership skills. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazel_Johnson-Brown)
- G. Rumay Alexander – Alexander is a nurse and educator who has worked to promote diversity and inclusion in the nursing profession. She has also served as president of the National League for Nursing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumay_Alexander)
- Betty Smith Williams – Williams was the first black person to receive a PhD in nursing, and was a pioneer in the field of nursing education. She also helped to establish the National Black Nurses Association. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betty_Smith_Williams)
- Faye Abdellah – Abdellah was a nurse and researcher who developed a groundbreaking nursing theory that focused on patient-centered care. She was also the first black nurse to serve as a deputy surgeon general in the United States Public Health Service. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faye_Abdellah)
- Lydia E. Hall – Hall was a nurse and researcher who developed the Care, Cure, Core Theory, which emphasized the importance of caring for patients in addition to treating their illnesses. She was also the first black nurse to serve as a director of nursing education. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_E._Hall)
- Hattie Bessent – Bessent was the first black nurse to serve as a director of nursing in a United States hospital, and worked to improve healthcare for underserved communities. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hattie_Bessent)
- Virginia Henderson – Henderson was a nurse and researcher who developed the nursing theory known as the “Need Theory,” which emphasized the importance of meeting patients’ basic needs. She was also a prolific author and educator. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Henderson)
- Beverly Malone – Malone is a nurse and educator who has worked to improve healthcare around the world. She served as the general secretary of the International Council of Nurses, and has been a strong advocate for nurses and patients alike. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beverly_Malone)
- Ernestine Wiedenbach – Wiedenbach was a nurse and researcher who developed the “Helping Art of Clinical Nursing” theory, which emphasized the importance of a nurse’s intuition and judgment in patient care.
From the first black nurse to receive formal training in the United States, Mary Eliza Mahoney, to the contemporary leaders of the nursing profession, these 25 black nurses represent the trailblazers who paved the way for generations to come.
Their courage, dedication, and passion for nursing serve as a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion in healthcare. As we continue to face new challenges in the field of nursing, we must remember the legacies of these inspiring nurses and strive to honor their contributions by working towards a more equitable and just healthcare system for all.
See a list of 100 Famous Nurses.
After graduating with a degree in English Literature from UCLA, Jeff published four editions of the World Wide Web Yellow Pages by Barnes and Noble, and several editions of the Best of the Web. He’s worked as an executive at both startup and mature companies including CareerPath.com and Microsoft. With nearly three decades of publishing and business development expertise, he now puts that experience to use operating RNCareers.org to help future nursing students get reliable information on registered nursing careers.