Black History: Special Delivery!!
Estelle Massey Osborne (1901 – 1981) was the eighth of eleven children. She was born in Palestine, Texas. Her parents were determined that all of their children would pursue higher education. All of her older sisters pursued careers in teaching. Osborne’s mother had two requirements for her daughters. They were required to complete high school. The other requirement was that they would never (as children) be employed by white people. She wanted her children to grow up confident in their identities; before they experienced ill treatment from whites.
After graduating from high school, Osborne followed her sisters in pursuing a career in teaching. Teaching was not a profession that suited her. She eventually went to live with her brother; hoping to pursue a career in dentistry. Already a dentist, her brother did not think the field suited her and encouraged her to pursue employment in nursing. Desperate for students, she was accepted on the spot when she applied. Osborne was particularly interested in obstetrics. In 1923, After completing the nursing program she achieved the highest score in the state on the nursing exam.
Osborne persevered in her new profession despite working in an environment where she was overlooked for positions for which she was more qualified than her white co-workers. Other staff also refused to consult with her even in her areas of expertise; preferring instead to speak with white nurses. Osborne would eventually go on to become president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. One of her goals as a leader of this organization was to eliminate the need for separate organizations. She achieved her goal in 1946 when the American Nursing Association began to integrate its membership.
Osborne played a key role through her leadership in advocating to address the racism and discrimination faced by black nurses.
Osborne felt compelled to seek additional education and applied for a Rosenwald Fund Scholarship. At the time no African American nurse had ever received a nursing fellowship. Osborne chose to resign from her job even before hearing that she had received the fellowship. With funding from the fellowship, she was the first African American nurse to earn a Master’s Degree in nursing 1931.
After completing a nursing assignment for the Rosenwald Fellowship, she accepted the position of Director of Education for Freedman’s Hospital in Washington DC. She was the first African American woman to hold this position. Osborne would also take a leadership role with the National Nursing Council for War Service. In this role, she would be tasked with exploring how black nurses could be integrated into the armed services in anticipation of World War II.
Osborne worked diligently to get the armed forces to change their practices while also working with nursing schools to admit more students of color. Two years later the number of training schools went from 14 to 38 while the number of nurses of color in the Army doubled and the Navy finally began to admit black nurses as well, though at nowhere near the rate of the Army. Following World War II, Osborne joined the Board of Directors of the American Nursing Association from 1948-1952 (another first for an African American woman). She then served as the Assistant Director and then Director of the National League For Nursing (1954-1959).
Not much is known about the remaining years of this trailblazers life. She died in 1981.
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