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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland: Researcher Examines How Flu Pandemic Created Opportunities for Black Nurses

A new article published in the American Journal of Public Health highlights the rarely emphasized role that black nurses — though they were originally excluded from the Red Cross’ workforce — ultimately played in the 1918 influenza pandemic and the aftermath of World War I.

Author Dr. Marian Moser Jones, an associate professor of family science in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, chronicles the stories of Ms. Aileen Cole, Ms. Clara Rollins and other black nurses, first barred from their profession, who eventually helped stem the growing influenza crisis in West Virginia.

Dr. Moser Jones argues that the country’s reliance on black women to fill gaps in skilled health care helped them advance in their profession, even after the pandemic had concluded. Their success as nurses eventually helped improve health outcomes in black communities too.

“It [their story] indicates that the opportunities created by a public health crisis may translate to lasting gains for members of marginalized groups,” Dr. Moser Jones wrote, while noting that such progress may not be evident for decades.

Black nurses’ roles in the pandemic and war have been addressed by other historians, but this article is the first to directly examine their entry into the workforce in the context of the struggles for civil rights and racial equality in health, Moser Jones writes.

Dr. Moser Jones is also the author of The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal.

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