Moving Lines: Position, Power, and Identity Black Nurses in Virginia, 1950s-1980s

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Tucker, Victoria, Nursing - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mann Wall, Barbra, Nursing, University of Virginia

This work examines the important but largely unchronicled moment at the intersection of American and nursing history: the experiences and contributions of Black nurses in Virginia during the transition from segregation to desegregation. It explores the educational, professional, and personal lives of Black nurses within entrenched racialized legislation and the geographically based socio-cultural norms of Virginia between the 1950s and 1980s. This history is sensitive to race, place, gender, and politics. Expanding the intellectual boundaries of the current nursing history canon adds to a more comprehensive history of nursing by reassessing which nurses’ stories are learned, celebrated, and acknowledged.

The study poses several questions: 1) How did Black nurses’ girlhood experiences contribute to their identity as nurses? 2) How did Black nurses negotiate the gendered, racial, and legal aspects of segregation during the 1950s-1980s? 3) How does the concept of place shape Black nurses’ experiences? 4) What were Black nurses and nursing students’ lived experiences in academic and healthcare settings? And 5) How can the “Moving Lines Framework” enhance understanding of discrimination in nursing and the greater healthcare system?

Twelve original oral histories were conducted with Black nurses and were combined with archival research. Their experiences were analyzed through a collective narrative approach. The “Moving Lines” framework is used to conceptualize their experiences in three areas: 1) Legislative, 2) Educational, and 3) Professional/Personal.

Three themes emerged as foundational tenants of their nursing identity: 1) Black girlhood and Coming of Age in Virginia, 2) Play and Place in Girlhood, and 3) Pathways in Nursing. Black nurses were central figures in the desegregation of the United States healthcare system and the move toward health equity. Personal accounts of Black nurses’ coming of age narratives, professional pursuits, and legacy within a central locality are rare. A detailed exploration of Black nurses in Virginia not only brings a new lens to an underexplored area of nursing history, but it can also help identify and dismantle discriminatory policies and practices from which health disparities arose. The oral histories center Black women’s voices and provide unmined memories told from their perspectives.

KEYWORDS: African American Nurses, Black Nurses, Black girlhood, 20th Century Education, Desegregation, Segregation, Nursing

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Black Nurses, Segregation, Desegregation , 20th Century Education
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