The African American Nurses of Early Twentieth-Century Indianapolis: A Research Essay

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Norma Erickson


A report from the Health Resources and Services Administration in 2002 predicted that by 2020 the United States would experience a shortfall of 400,000 nurses. A demographic imbalance in age cohorts has triggered concern among healthcare planners about the shrinking pool of nurses who will be trained and ready to care for an aging population. In 2003, nursing educator and researcher Diane R. Andrews remarked on the particular lack of minorities in nursing. Only about 5 percent of the nursing force is African American, while the country’s black population is around 12 percent. Adding more nurses from the African American community could help relieve the downturn in the number of working nurses, but few women and men have stepped forward. The fallout from this lack of diversity is not only a dearth of black nurses but also a lack of adequate role models for those young people who do enter the profession. Andrews offered reasons for this shortage, including an alleged failure to prepare students for the academic rigors of nursing school. That is a problem of the present. Another of Andrews’s suggestions—that minority nursing students find it difficult “to reconcile their cultural attributes, values, goals, and orientation with those of the nurs-ing profession” is a tangled problem rooted in the past. Addressing that problem calls for a deeper analysis with a historical approach. A look at the history of black nurses points out why both of Andrews’s theories are viable explanations. Evidence shows that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many young black women wanted to embrace the culture of nursing but were denied the opportunity to demonstrate their alignment with mainstream nursing’s “attributes, values, [and] goals.”


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Erickson, N. (2019). The African American Nurses of Early Twentieth-Century Indianapolis: A Research Essay. Indiana Magazine of History, 112(4), 370-384. Retrieved from