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March 20th, 2013

Estelle Massey Osborne: fighting racial discrimination



Lillie Howard

Estelle Massey Osborne was born in Palestine, Texas on May 3rd, 1901. Her parents guided their 11 children to be strong, independent and confident. Besides being wonderful advocates for pursuing dreams, her parents were thoughtful and protective parents, so to avoid being exposed to racism, Estelle and her sisters were not allowed to work for white employers.

Estelle attended Prairie View State College, and became a nurse. Needing more education, she enrolled in Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City.While there she taught at the Lincoln School for Nurses in the Bronx, and became the first nursing instructor at the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing. After earning her BA in 1931, Estelle became the first educational director of nursing at the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, which is now the Howard University College of Nursing.

In 1936, she again made history as the first African-American director of nursing at City Hospital #2 and later became the first black consultant to the National Nursing Council for War Service. After earning her master’s degree, Estelle became the first African-American member of the nursing facility at New York University in 1946. This led to a role on the board of directors of the American Nurses Assoc. and the position of Associate General Director of the National League for Nursing.

During World War II, while employed at the Nursing Council for War Service, Estelle was a part-time lecturer at New York University. In 1947, she joined the faculty on a full-time basis, teaching courses in community problems, group relations, fundamentals in nursing and other courses in the university’s Department of Nursing. Estelle proved that with the combination of higher education and the practical application of her nursing skills, she could break new barriers and create unlimited opportunities for herself and all other African-American nurses, and the effects of her actions are still serving us today. She is also credited with breaking the color bar in nursing during World War II, and contributing "substantially" to the "improved public image" and the advancement of educational and economic opportunity for Negro nurses. "...it is no exaggeration to say," writes Edna Yost, that Negro nurses "have more opportunity today than they would have had without Estelle Massey, and so have Negro citizens throughout our population." Estelle’s personal struggles for survival in this profession contributed substantially to improving economic and educational opportunities for Negro nurses.

To a member of a minority group, it is of supreme significance to become a "first," and thereby open the door of opportunity to other members. Estelle opened many such doors for Negro nurses. The first scholarship award for advanced study by the Julius Rosenwald Fund to a Negro nurse went to Estelle Osborne in 1929. She was the first Negro superintendent of nurses and director of the Nursing School at the Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis; the first Negro nurse to receive the degree of Master of Arts with a major in nursing from Columbia University Teachers College. In 1949, when she was a member of the board of directors of the American Nurses Association, Estelle was sent to a meeting of the International Council of Nurses to be selected as an official delegate. When she was appointed consultant to the Coordinating Committee on Negro Nursing for the National Council for War Service, she became the first Negro to hold such an office on the staff of any national nursing organization.

Truthfully, there is so much more to learn about Estelle Massey Osborne but I don’t have the space to do so at this moment in time. "It takes a specific kind of person to be a nurse. It is a field that requires an elegant balance of intelligence and compassion, and the wisdom to know which is needed in each moment. Estelle Massey Osborne was dedicated to becoming the finest nurse she could possible be and was an advocate of greater opportunities for black nurses. Even then, she knew what is widely known today: higher education translates into increased opportunities.

Most of this information was found in "The Negro Heritage Library’s Profiles of Negro Womanhood" published by Educational Heritage, Inc.

Let me leave you with these words: education is the door that opens up opportunities, therefore we must make sure that our school system, Board of Education and parents are dedicated to our children no longer being allowed to be "drop-outs". This will translate into increased and greater opportunities for them, which will only benefit our community. We must also get involved with our city government to ensure that there will be jobs for our children in their hometown once they acquire their education. This is Lillie’s Point of View!

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