The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary for graduates of the Class of 1962. You’ll often hear graduates say, “We’ve made it!” to celebrate their accomplishments over the years. Yet, some graduates move through life never realizing the “it” they have made is of historical significance. The 1,700 graduates of the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing indeed left their mark on the world, and each individual’s contributions should be preserved to inspire generations unborn.

A bit of history

The graduates of Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing (FHSN), and Howard University (HU), share an inimitable history honoring blacks in nursing, including African Americans and people of the African diaspora. This relationship was established under the direction of the United States federal government. The purpose was to train black nurses to care for freed slaves around the city of Washington, D.C.

Howard University Training School for Nurses (HUTSN) was established in 1893 and transitioned to Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1894. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first interracial U.S. surgeon, founded the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1894. (Incidentally, Dr. Williams also founded the first U.S. interracial hospital, Provident.) All of the esteemed faculty were master’s prepared in nursing, most graduates of Freedmen’s themselves, and with numerous achievements between them. It remained a “cooperating institution,” awarding approximately 1,587 diplomas to nurses, until its close in the early 1970s.

Freedman’s Hospital was directly linked to the post–Civil War federal Freedmen’s Bureau, established to provide emergency medical care to the many former slaves settling around the capital. Congress eventually transferred the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing to Howard University in 1967. The School of Nursing was phased out not long after, admitting its last class in 1970, graduating them in 1973. From 1974 to present, Howard University has awarded the Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Here we document the history of this relationship and the contributions of some alumnae to inspire future generations to new levels of success.

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Notable alumnae

Fifty years ago, 35 graduates of Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, in cooperation with Howard University, began their journey in nursing. They made, and continue to make, a profound impact on the history of black nurses and the profession of nursing. The historical significance of these 33 black women and two men is collected here to honor the graduates.

The Howard University 1962 yearbook, The Bison, has names, pictures, and documentation of those who received diplomas. It is one of the few printed works and testaments to the individuals who made and continue to help preserve the earlier history of black nurses. Some stories of the students, staff, and faculty members have been recorded and rewarded, and other contributions have yet to be immortalized.

Mary Elizabeth Carnegie

“In 1893, Howard University in Washington, D.C., established the first nursing program in a university setting—16 years before the similar and flagship program began at the University of Minnesota,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Carnegie in her 1986 publication The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing, 1854–1984. Dr. Carnegie cited the relationship between Howard University and Freedmen’s to exemplify how black nurses and their impact in health care had been ignored. Her contribution to that legacy was to publish a comprehensive history of black nurses. Much of Dr. Carnegie’s work features the life experiences of graduates from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing and Howard University. One such experience was the Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc., a national sorority of registered professional nurses and nursing students. This organization was incorporated by Freedmen’s graduates and physicians of the Freedmen’s Hospital/Howard University complex. Dr. Carnegie, in her writing, acknowledges the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, and Joyce Elmore in helping her preserve the history of black nurses.

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Joyce Ann Elmore (Archer), R.N., B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D.

One of Dr. Carnegie’s compatriots in nursing, Joyce Ann Elmore, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D., graduated from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1958. In 1965, Joyce wrote an unpublished master’s dissertation, A History of Freedmen’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Washington, D.C. 1894–1909. She published “Black Nurses: Their Service and Their Struggles” for the American Journal of Nursing in 1976. In 1990, Joyce worked to establish the M. Elizabeth Carnegie Endowed Chair at Howard University’s College of Nursing.

Dr. Elmore’s contributions to medicine and the nursing profession varied greatly, but her dedication to the profession of nursing remained the same. She began her career as an administrative assistant to the director of the audio/visual aid section at Howard University’s College of Medicine. Dr. Elmore then served as the Assistant Director of Nursing Education at FHSN. In addition to those positions, the years saw her doing consulting work at Howard University; serving as the Director of the American Nurses Association Department of Nursing Education; working at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.; teaching as an adjunct nursing professor; and much more. Some of her many honors and awards include a 1973 Community Service Award for Outstanding Service to District of Columbia; a 1980 Commendation Medal from the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for Exemplary Performance of Duty; and countless other awards commemorating her nursing practice, community service, and research. Howard University hosted a dinner gala in 2006 to further honor Dr. Elmore’s life and work.

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Dr. Joyce Ann Elmore Archer, as a lifelong member of the Freedmen’s Hospital Nurse’s Alumni Club, Inc., worked with other alumni to make, write, and preserve the historical contributions of graduates from FHSN and HU, and of black nurses everywhere. She retired as an 06, having served commendably in the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps. Ida C. Robinson, a mentor and coworker, says Joyce was a phenomenal person who set an example for all to emulate. Dr. Elmore’s lifeworks ended with her death on June 15, 2009.

Ida C. Robinson, R.N., M.S.N.

The life story of Ida C. Robinson, R.N., M.S.N., would be incomplete without details of her many contributions in creating and preserving history of the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing. Mrs. Robinson was the Director of Nursing Education at FHSN when the nursing program transitioned to Howard University in June 1973. In this position Mrs. Robinson suggested “a directory of all graduates would be beneficial for historical reasons, as well as provide valuable information and service the alumni.” On April 19, 1971, Staff Assistant Iris L. Morton Fagan and others began a manual audit of 2,307 files, which was completed on June 12, 1972. Mrs. Robinson’s thoughts and deeds were always focused on preserving history. She continues to do so working with the Freedmen’s Hospital Nurses Alumni Club, Inc., and Howard University. She is 92 years old. In 2010, Mrs. Robinson was awarded the Doctorate of Humane Letters by The Catholic University of America.

About the Author

Lawrence C. Washington, R.N., M.S.N.
Colonel, Retired, Army Nurse Corps

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It’s a unique occasion when an author’s accomplishments mirror that of his or her subjects. Here we look at the life of the man who sought to keep the memory of this historic class of nurses alive.

A native of Washington, D.C., Lawrence C. Washington earned a diploma in nursing from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The University of Maryland in Baltimore, and a Master of Science in Nursing from The Catholic University of America, also in Washington, D.C.

Colonel Washington’s health career began in 1954 as a medical aidman with the rank of private, and his active service ended the first time in 1987, as the Acting Chief Nurse of William Beaumont Army Medical Center with the rank of colonel. Highlights of his 27 years of distinguished active military service include many “firsts” of his gender, professional specialty, and ethnicity. Washington was the first male Army Nurse Corps officer to receive a commission in the Regular Army of the United States; the first black male Army Nurse Corps officer to be promoted to the rank of colonel; and the first black male nurse to be selected, attend, and receive certification for residency education at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Among his teaching credentials, Washington has served as a clinical instructor and skills supervisor in psychiatric nursing for the University Of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio: School Of Nursing; an assistant professor and adjunct faculty member for clinical pediatric nursing at Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University); an assistant professor at Howard University College of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Health Sciences (now two separate schools, pharmacy, and nursing and allied health); and an assistant professor at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, among other academic endeavors.

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While serving as a commonwealth assistant professor at George Mason University College of Nursing and Health Science, Washington became the program coordinator of the Saudi-U.S. University Project. There he also lectured and provided clinical supervision in health assessment, leadership and management, long-term care, and community-based health promotion and disease prevention. He was also a member of the University’s Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations committee.

Washington’s awards and recognitions include the following: United States Legion of Merit, Three Meritorious Service Medals, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Order of Military Medical Merit, and an Expert Field Medical Badge.

He has held membership in The American Nurses Association, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International, Army Nurses Corps Association, Charter Member of Improvement Science Research Network, American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and The Society for Organizational Learning.

The summit of Washington’s life is to bear witness to the transformation of the lives of his wife of 53 years; their five children, 11 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren; his students; and himself, as they all move from abecedarians to professionals. “With great pride in his knowledge of God, understanding of his country, and unwavering devotion to duty,” he says. “On the wings of the spirit of service is borne the unselfish commitment to a successful life.”

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