Nurses have come a long way in the last 100 years. For that to happen, it took nursing leaders with courage, commitment and character. Mabel Keaton Staupers was one of those.
A pioneer in breaking down color barriers for nurses, Staupers dedicated much of her career to advancing the cause of equality for African-Americans in the field. Her work paved the way for nurses of color to serve in the military and to earn full membership into the American Nurses Association.
Born in Barbados in 1890, her family moved to the United States in 1913. She graduated with honors from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1917 and worked as a private duty nurse. In 1922, Staupers’ career path led her to Harlem, where she worked for the Harlem Tuberculosis Committee. She organized the first inpatient center for African-American tuberculosis patients in Harlem and worked tirelessly to develop health care services to improve the lives of people in the community.
Despite her accomplishments, Staupers felt the sting of racial discrimination. Frustrated by the exclusion of African-Americans from many nursing schools and organizations, she became the first paid executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1934. During the next 12 years, she embarked on a journey that improved the lot of African-America nurses. She increased the organization’s membership and formed relationships with other organizations to gain clout in the fight for equality.
One of her primary efforts was lobbying for the inclusion of African-American nurses into the military, which was achieved in 1945. In her mind, breaking through that barrier helped nurses of all races participate in full U.S. citizenship.
Staupers work continued to pay off when the American Nurses Association opened its membership to African-American nurses in 1948. Three years later, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses voted to dissolve and merge with the ANA.
She retired in 1951, the same year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People honored her with the prestigious Spingarn Medal for “spearheading the successful movement to integrate Negro nurses into American life as equals,” said presenter and novelist Lillian Smith.
In 1961, Staupers published an autobiography, “No Time for Prejudice: A Story of the Integration of Negroes in Nursing in the United States.”
She passed away in 1989 and was inducted posthumously into the ANA Hall of Fame in 1996.
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