How the Flu Pandemic Created Opportunities for Black Nurses
A new article published in the American Journal of Public Health highlights the underrecognized 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.
Marian Moser Jones, an associate professor of family science, and research assistant Matilda Saines, a junior studying behavioral and community health, co-authored the article, which chronicles the stories of Aileen Cole, Clara Rollins and other black nurses, first barred from their profession, who eventually helped stem the growing influenza crisis in West Virginia.
Moser Jones and Saines argue that the country’s reliance on black women to fill gaps in skilled healthcare 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,” they 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, they write.
Moser Jones’ research examines the history and evolution of public health institutions. She is the author of The American Red Cross from Clara Barton to the New Deal.