Integrating the NC State Nurses Association and the NC Association of Negro Registered Nurses, Inc.
Integration of the North Carolina Association of Negro registered Nurses, Inc. and the North Carolina State Nurse Association
The first 50 years of professional nursing in North Carolina were marred by racial exclusion, prejudice and segregation. From education to employment to membership in professional associations, African-American nurses in North Carolina, indeed in all the states of the old Confederacy as well as some other parts of the nation, faced legal, social and professional discrimination. In 1949 the nurses of North Carolina became the first professional organization in the state to integrate.
When the North Carolina State Nurses Association (NCSNA) formed in 1902, the bylaws stated that membership was open exclusively to white nurses. As the NCSNA drafted and lobbied for legislation, worked to increase standards in nursing education and offered continuing education opportunities for its members, African American nurses could not participate in any of these activities. In order to profit from a professional organization, African American nurses in North Carolina formed the North Carolina Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NCACGN). Five North Carolina nurses attended the 1920 National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) annual convention in Washington, D.C. Carrie Early Broadfoot, of Fayetteville, called the North Carolina nurses together during the conference and suggested they establish a state chapter of the NACGN. Upon their return to North Carolina, they wrote and spoke to as many nurses as possible about the benefits of having an organization. Their hard work paid off. The first meeting of the NCCGNA, (name later changed to North Carolina Association of Negro Registered Nurses, Inc. –NCANRI) was held in January 1923 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.. A second meeting was held in Raleigh later the same year with 35 nurses participating. By 1938, there were 150 active members of the group and by 1949, 269 African-American nurses were involved in the organization.
The first professional nursing organization in North America, the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC) formed in 1896 as a federation of nursing school alumni associations. The organization welcomed graduate nurses of all races as long as they were members of constituent alumna groups. In 1911, the NAAUSC became the American Nurse Association (ANA). Membership in state nursing associations replaced membership in nursing school alumni organizations as the criteria for joining the ANA. Until the late 1940s, many southern state nursing associations, including North Carolina, accepted only white nurses. Therefore, North Carolina African American nurses were denied membership not only in the North Carolina State Nurses Association (NCSNA) but also the ANA.
World War II created a significant shift in race relations in the US and in the nursing profession. In January, 1945, President Roosevelt issued an order desegregating the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. In 1946, the ANA House of Delegates passed two important resolutions to fully integrate the organization. The first resolution recommended that state nurse associations eliminate racial barriers to membership as quickly as possible. The delegates further voted to amend the ANA constitution and bylaws so that by 1948 individuals could be admitted directly into the ANA if they were denied membership in a state nurse association.
In 1944 the President of the NCANRNI wrote the president of the NCSNA asking that African American nurses be allowed into the NCSNA. Their request was denied because the NCSNA bylaws limited membership to white nurses. After WWII, the NCSNA leadership wanted to represent nurses in collective bargaining agreements. In order to comply with federal labor regulations, the ‘white only” clause in the bylaws had to be removed. Some nurses in NCSNA thought it would be embarrassing and unwieldy to have African American nurses from North Carolina be members of the ANA but not allowed in the NCSNA. Many nurses in both organizations believed in racial equality and that one integrated nursing organization in the state would best represent nursing interests to the state legislature and the general public.
Leaders of the NCANRNI and the NCSNA met in 1947 and 1948 to plan consolidating the organizations. There was some resistance inside each organization. Some members of the NCANRNI feared they would be subsumed and marginalized in the much larger NCSNA. The NCANRNI had 269 members in 1949 while the NCSNA had almost 3,000 members. The minutes of the 1947 NCSNA convention reflect some nurses’ hesitancy to socialize with African Americans on an equal basis. However, a majority in each organization voted to unite.
On June 25th, 1949 the NCANRNI voted itself out of existence and the NCSNA voted to open its membership to all registered nurses in the state of North Carolina. Maria B. Noell, executive secretary of the NCSNA, praised the actions of the NCCGNA by saying:
“Since all citizens of North Carolina need adequate nursing care and since the professional nursing organizations are to a great degree responsible for such care. I believe the action taken this morning by the N.C. Association of Negro Registered Nurses, Inc. to dissolve its organization of 27 years standing and to associate itself wholly with the NC State Nurses’ Association will be a great asset in promoting nursing service for all North Carolinians.’’
Elizabeth M. Thomson, President of NCANRNI in 1949 closed the last meeting of the organization with these words:
The final chapter has been written by the North Carolina Association of Negro Registered Nurses, Inc., but the activities of nurses and nursing must go on. As professional women, we all have a great part to play in furthering the progress and elevating the standards of this work. The integrating of the associations gives opportunity for great service, and by so doing, humanity will be better served.
In the first year after integration, African American nurses were serving in leadership
positions on the state and district level.
In a piece in American Journal of Nursing in 1963, Marie Noell reflected on the 14 years since
the NCSNA integrated its membership this way:
In facing integration in this southern state, the North Carolina State Nurses' Association has been "way ahead" of the communities in which we live. For 15 years, Negro nurses in North Carolina have been members of the NCSNA, but it is only within recent months that Negro members have been able to obtain full acceptance at hotels where we meet. When NCSNA and the North Carolina Association of Negro Registered Nurses, Inc. combined in 1948, it was not without opposition-from some members of both organizations-and as a result, we lost some members. How-ever, the merger was completed. District associations also fully accepted Negro members. From the first, NCSNA has refused to hold conventions or meetings unless the facility permitted all members to attend meetings and association lunch-eons and banquets. On only one occasion did we have to reschedule a meeting. One hotel, being picketed just prior to the NCSNA convention, notified us that Negro nurses could attend all scheduled meetings but not the banquet. We moved our annual banquet from this hotel to a hospital. Today, in at least four major cities in North Carolina, several leading hotels accept all our members for all accommodations, even with civil rights demonstrations going on. We have let it be known that we will not hold a convention at a hotel that does not accept Negro members for housing. Recently one hotel was notified that the 1963 convention would be moved to another city unless we were assured that Negro members would be fully accepted. We have received this assurance. NCSNA's Negro members have not pushed the public for this acceptance. It has been the association itself-its membership and leadership-that has insisted on their acceptance. NCSNA was among the first organizations in this state to include Negroes in its membership. Our action has, I believe, led others to follow our example: first, including Negroes as members, then moving toward their full acceptance at public facilities as rapidly as community conditions will allow. NCSNA has been cited in the press as an example on how all people can work together.
Item 7 on the agenda of the 1949 NCSNA State Convention was about integrating the Associaiton. Below are the transcripts of the discussion and vote from the NC State Archives.
Seventh, that Negro nurses become members of the American Nurses’ Association through membership in the North Carolina State Nurses’ Association. Madam President, I move the adoption of this recommendation. (The motion was seconded by Miss Eula Rackley.)
PRESIDENT: Perhaps you would like to have just a few words on this. As you know, there are just nine states, I think, we have been told that on a number of occasions, which do not admit Negro nurses to the A.N.A. through their state associations and North Carolina is one of the nine. Is there any discussion on this matter?
MEMBER: Does this mean that they are going to be members of the district associations?
PRESIDENT: They would be members of the district associations.
MEMBER: And that means that they would have to meet with us?
MISS COLUMBIS MUNDS: It means that they would come into all social life and in this part of the country we are not used to that. Why do we have to do that in North Carolina? Can’t we let them join right through the National Association and let them keep their own organization in the different places in the state?
PRESIDENT: There is a provision for them to join directly into the American Nurses’ Association, if the state does not give them that privilege.
MEMBER: That seems to be sufficient.
MISS MUNDS: It seems to me that we are bringing about the ruin of the whole social life of our own state association by doing that. I don’t see how we can have any social life. We can have business meetings but that would be the end of it, I think.
PRESIDENT: I believe it is the thought of the colored nurses that they would like to be associated with us for the educational advantage.
MISS MUNDS: I don’t see how you can keep them from attending any meetings that you might have; you can’t say that they can go to the business meetings and nothing else. I talked to a lawyer about that the other day and he said that this is a voluntary organization and it is up to you what you do but if you let them in they have the privileges of the association. I think that is the thing that we have to consider. I don’t see why they can’t join the National and then maintain their own clubs. I have worked with them for years and I have tried to get them to organize actively ever since I started Public Health work, that is ever since I have had Negro nurses and I have found that they are very inactive.
PRESIDENT: Thank you, Miss Munds. Are there other discussions?
RUTH HAY: I understand that there are 256 Negro nurses in North Carolina and there are three thousand white nurses in North Carolina, or about one to twelve. I wonder how much we are jeopardizing our position as the superior dominant race when there is that proposition. I wonder if it would not be helpful to the thinking of this organization if Mrs. Noell would read to use the application that she read to the Board of Directors last night?
MRS. MARIE B. NOELL: I don’t believe that I have that and I am sorry that I do not have it. I would be glad to give Miss Hay a story about this. For several years this matter has been coming before the Board of Directors of the State Nurses’ Association and I think it was in 1940 that the President at that time appointed a committee of the Board of Directors to study the matter and this committee made a very good report and determined at that time there would be no further consideration of the matter. Then two years there was another committee appointed and it seem that quite a lot of progress had been made and that the attitude of the members of the association generally speaking had changed completely. And then it was last year that we had another committee and this committee recommended that they come into the association as soon as possible. At that time our charter or certificate of incorporation included on sentence saying that “only white nurses can belong to this association”. Then came the adoption of the Economic Security Program and it was vitally necessary to amend the charter or certificate of incorporation in order to make a change so that the association could do collective bargaining and it was unanimously agreed by the Board that this sentence be deleted from the charter. It was deleted in April, 1947. Then the structure of the National Nurses’ Association can absorb the functions of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. This committee has recommended and it has been sent to those state associations—to states with dual organizations—that is, with an organization unit of A.N.A. and also an organization for Negro Nurses in the state, suggesting that they have joint committees of the two associations to work together. We had such in this state and last January there was a conference held in headquarters office, ten members of the North Carolina Association of Negro Registered Nurses meeting with us. There was a very free and open discussion about the social customs, the advantages the Negro nurses would get from coming into A.N.A. through the State Nurses’ Association and all ten or those Negro nurses that day said they felt all of the Negro nurses in the state would be very sensible about the social customs. In other words they would not expect to secure sleeping rooms in a white hotel in North Carolina at this time and they would not expect to have meals served. Now we have nothing written about that; they know the social customs that exist the same as we do and in addition to that they have a clannish feeling; they like to get together themselves and I don’t think we are going to be overcome with them as members. Another thing is that at the present time their dues are three dollars, whereas our dues amount to about thirteen. I that that will come into the picture. They have 256 members at this time but I doubt that we would have 256 come into our association on the first year. The asked that someone from our association attend their annual meeting, which was held at Bennet College in Greensboro in June. Miss Helen Peeler and I went and we talked to them. Miss Heinzerling was unable to go, but we spoke to them about the work of their association and the work of our association and how it might be advantageous to both groups to have them both in one organization. Mrs. Daley, who is President of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses was there that day and after a rather free discussion—and I might say here that many of them were not eager to come into our association—they were afraid that they would miss their social life in their organizations and they wanted to know specifically the question?
PG. 43 Missing
MEMBER: In one instance I am afraid that they might be the losers, because they have more fun than we do when they go somewhere and I am wondering if they come into the organization if it would be their loss to have us around while they are having such fun—because they do have a lot of fun.
MRS. LOUISE P. EAST: I would like to say what I said at the Board Meeting. I am a Tar Heel bred, too; but our association was the one that brought up the question. We went to the Negro nurses and talked to them about the advisability of them coming in the A.N.A. through the North Carolina State Nurse! Association and more or less asking them to come to a decision about the matter. Now they have made a decision—how could we very well back down on something that we started ourselves? And I believe that the social customs and the arrangements, and all those things are details that we will have to work out, but shouldn’t we look at the larger sphere of this question and see whether we would not benefit the Negro nurse by allowing her to worked out so that they will not feel unwelcome. I don’t believe you would have any trouble with them.
PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mrs. East.
MISS MUNDS: I don’t want to do all the talking on this side of the room, but if they were in the National and then we could invite them to our meeting to get the benefit of the educational features they would have full privileges, but as it is they can maintain their own club. If we take them in we will not be able to tell them they can’t do anything or they can do such and such, after they get in, because if they come in as members of the district they are members of the district and you can’t make any arrangements afterwards as far as I can see. I am not at all adverse to the Negro nurse having every advantage. I think they do have every educational advantage that they can have and we have certainly tried to help all the Negro nurses all we can but I think that is a very grave problem and I think it is something that we are going to regret. I think it is something that the Negro nurses are probably not going to enjoy as much as they would having their own meetings and having privileges of their own club that they can have in their meetings all the time.
MEMBER: I don’t know how it would be about our banquet in the hotels of North Carolina, but I do not believe the hotel would take them in.
PRESIDENT: That is the impression that I have, that the hotels in North Carolina would not admit them to their public dining rooms. I have not seen that occur anywhere. However, it does occur in the North, of course, where they have the privilege of going in the dining rooms.
MEMBER: Do we always have our banquet at a hotel?
PRESIDENT: As a rule it is held there.
MEMBER: Could we have it somewhere else?
PRESIDENT: They know that and they said as much at the meeting, but of course we do not have anything in writing. That is as definite as we have it, that they would not be invited for participation in the social functions with the white nurses.
MRS. MARIE B. NOELL: May I say something. I have been making arrangements for our annual meetings for several years now and back in 1940 there wasn’t a place, a hotel in North Carolina that we could even invite a Negro educator into one of our meetings. That has changed considerably and in the last few years we get permission to invite them in provided we do not have more than fifteen or more than twenty-five, and we were told three or four years ago that we would have to meet them at the front door and escort them into our meeting room and to be sure that they did not loiter around the lobby, but we don’t even have to do that now, and the young graduates of Negro schools take the examinations with the white nurses and some of those examinations are held at the Robert E. Lee Hotel in Winston-Salem, one of the best hotels in the state. The hotel permits those girls to go into the front door, to stand in line and they do not stay there but they go right in the front door as any other person would do and I think that shows that generally speaking a lot of progress has been made in this respect. These Negro nurses have just as much sense about social customs in the South as we do and I don’t think that you will find them overbearing, certainly in committee meetings. They have said that they would be perfectly sensible about it and it is not the educated Negro that causes the trouble in this respect. If you ride on a bus through the South, the educated Negro in there will not insist on sitting on the front seat; it is the other type, and I think you are going to be dealing with this higher type of Negro.
PRESIDENT: Is there any further discussion? Are you ready for this question?
MISS HAY: I can’t claim to be Tar Heel born and bred but I am in the position of an adopted child who is told that his parents selected him because they wanted him. Well, I am reversing it; I selected North Carolina as my home state and I have been told that when I stepped off the train I stepped in a puddle of tar. They laughed at me last night when I brought up the fact that Mississippi, which we in North Carolina and pretty much over the nation think is just about the deepest of the Deep South, and Mississippi over a year ago, with the minimum amount of discussion took action in the State Nurses Association to admit Negro nurses to the American Nurses’ through the Mississippi State Nurses’ Association. I say, they laughed at me last night because I said, “We can’t allow Mississippi to get ahead of North Carolina.” (Applause).
PRESIDENT: Are we ready to vote? The motion has been made and seconded. All in favor will please say “aye”. Those opposed “no”. Stand up and we will count you. (There being twenty-two votes against, the motion was carried by a majority of fifty-two.)
Also see Chapter 6 of D'antonio, P (2010). American nusing:A history of knowledge, authority, and the meaning of work. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.