February 8, 2019 – As the United States celebrates Black History Month this month, colleagues at the School of Nursing & Health Studies have been working together on an oral history of the first two African-American nursing students to graduate from the then-School of Nursing, which was founded in 1903.

With funding from the Georgetown University Jesuit Mission Grant, Brian Floyd, MS, assistant dean, and Edilma Yearwood, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, chair of the Department of Professional Nursing Practice, are serving as principal investigators on the oral research project to recover, record, archive, and analyze the oral histories of Margaret (Hayes) Jordan, of the BSN class of 1964, and Bernardine (Mays) Lacey, of the BSN class of 1969.

Dr. Edilma Yearwood and Dr. Bernardine Lacey

Dr. Edilma Yearwood and Dr. Bernardine Lacey (NHS'69)

Yearwood, also an associate professor, and Floyd, an Engelhard faculty fellow, spent the summer interviewing the women about their experiences attending Georgetown in the 1960s.

‘Elevate the Voice’

“This was a turbulent and changing historical time for people of color in the United States,” Floyd says.  “Our goal is to elevate the voice of these pioneering women by inclusion of their experiences as a critically important – yet not covered in previous historical accounts – part of the school’s story.”

Jordan is an eighth generation Washingtonian who currently resides in Dallas, Texas and Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. She is a direct descendant of Paul Jennings, James Madison’s enslaved manservant. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from the School of Nursing in 1964. She was educated in segregated schools until high school. After graduating from Immaculate Conception Academy, she applied and was admitted to the School of Nursing in 1960. She earned the school’s distinguished alumni award in 1995 and has a scholarship named in her honor at Georgetown.

Mr. Brian Floyd and Ms. Margaret Jordan (NHS'64)

Mr. Brian Floyd and Ms. Margaret Jordan (NHS'64)

Lacey is originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi and currently resides on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. After graduating with a nursing diploma from the Gilfoy School of Nursing at Mississippi Baptist Hospital in 1962, she moved to Washington DC for a job at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She applied and was accepted in 1967 to pursue her RN to BSN degree at Georgetown. She graduated in 1969. Lacey was founding director and dean of the Western Michigan University Bronson School of Nursing and is a “living legend” of the American Academy of Nursing.

The Historical Record

The researchers note their findings are focused on analyzing the academic preparation, self-efficacy, support networks, racial and gender barriers encountered, and student and professional achievements of the participants as evidenced through reflections, dialogue, and storytelling.

“Understanding their experience is significant for two reasons,” Floyd says. “First, their formation took place during a significant historical period of cultural change and resistance in America, and occurred in the context of being the first of their race to integrate the nursing school. Secondly, capturing this oral history embraces our commitment to education as a means to uncovering truth, discovering meaning, embracing diversity, and promoting social justice and intellectual awareness.”

This information – in addition to being an educational tool for current and future nursing students – will also substantively enhance, from an academic standpoint, the historical record about the first African-American women who were nursing graduates of Georgetown, the researchers add.

‘Women and Men for Others’

Upcoming outcomes over the next year, the researchers say, include journal submission for publication, presentations at various academic conferences, an alumnae talk with the participants, and taped digital recording of interviews to be housed in the official archives of Georgetown University.

“The information obtained from this oral history project can also help us better understand civic engagement and the motivation to pursue a career in the nursing profession that calls upon us to be of service to others, care for the whole person, and be women and men for others, informed by a Jesuit education,” Yearwood says.

– Nursing major Morgan Robinson (NHS’20)