because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mabel Staupers

Mabel Staupers didn't get into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame because she graduated with honors from nursing school or because she was an excellent nurse who distinguished herself in her profession or because she did an exceptional job as an organizational administrator. She did all those things, but she was voted into the Hall of Fame because she was an in-your-face woman.

At a time in history when racial segregation was the norm from coast to coast in the U.S. and most people of color accepted it because you could be risking your life to do  anything else, Staupers flatly refused to play the game, in spite of the fact that she wasn't even born a U.S. citizen. Her parents had emigrated to the U.S. from Barbados in 1903, when Staupers was thirteen years old. And segregation or no segregation, she would not take no for an answer.

Her concerns: that Black nurses weren't welcome in mainstream professional nursing organizations because they were thought to be less capable than White nurses, that most Americans didn't realize the degree to which Black nurses experienced discrimination of all kinds, and that the health care of Black Americans in general was often substandard compared to the care that Whites expected and received. So, in the 1930's, she helped to lead the National Association of Graduate Colored Nurses until such time as she could get the American Nurses Association to change their racist policies and accept Black nurses as members. She uncovered and publicized serious deficiencies in the health care of the people living in Harlem, New York. And she used the mainstream media highly effectively to push the military (in the middle of World War II) to accept Black nurses in the same way and to the same extent that White nurses were accepted. And it only took her thirty years to do it all. In-your-face women don't care how long it takes. Once they take on a task, they see it through.

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