When Brian Floyd, assistant dean of Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, read a book on the history of the NHS, he noticed something was missing: Georgetown’s first African American nurses.
The book, “Learning, Faith and Caring: History of the Georgetown School of Nursing, 1903-2000,” written by former dean of the NHS Alma Woolley and published in 2001, is a chronicle of the School of Nursing’s history, from its inception in 1903 until the the early 21st century, when it became the NHS. The chronicle made little mention of graduates of color throughout the school’s history, according to Floyd.
Inspired to correct the record, Floyd launched an oral history project in 2017 to preserve the stories of the first African American women who graduated from the NHS. The project, which is expected to be completed by April, is meant to serve as an educational resource for students through taped audio and visual interviews and papers in academic journals. Pieces of the project will eventually be featured in events at the university, according to Floyd.
One of the goals of the project is to use the power of oral history, research conducted through recorded interviews between a narrator and a first-person source, to correct the historical gap in the university’s past, according to Floyd.
“Capturing this oral history embraces our schools commitment to education as a means to uncovering truth, discovering meaning, embracing diversity, and promoting social justice and intellectual awareness,” Floyd wrote in an email to The Hoya. “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.”
Soon after beginning the project, Floyd asked Edilma Yearwood, chair of the department of Professional Nursing Practice, an academic department in the NHS, to join the initiative.
In 2017, Floyd and Yearwood wrote a grant proposal to Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry, and were awarded funding through a Jesuit Mission Grant in 2018, according to Yearwood.
“This is supported by our Jesuit community, mission and ministry,” Yearwood said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “They’re the ones who wanted us to do the work of the research, the oral history, and they wanted us to get the information out.”
Once awarded the grant, Floyd and Yearwood tracked down the first African American graduates to arrange interviews. These graduates included Margaret Jordan (NUR ’64), Brenda Lockley (NUR ’65), Bernardine Lacey (NUR ’69) and Priscilla Rogers (NUR ’69).
Jordan was the first African American student to graduate from the NHS. Today, the NHS awards a scholarship in Jordan’s name with a preference for African American students living in the Washington, D.C. area with demonstrated financial need.
The interviews, conducted in 2018 and 2019, will eventually be stored in Lauinger Library.
During the interviews, Yearwood said she had difficulty reconciling how the stories of these four graduates had been left out of the school’s history for so long.
“The hardest part of this was knowing that they are part of the history of Georgetown, but their voices weren’t recorded anywhere in the history that was written about Georgetown Nursing. Their voices were missing,” Yearwood said. “As a woman of color, it just reminds me how little people thought our voices were worth.”
In addition to the recorded interviews, Yearwood and Floyd are supplementing the project with newspaper articles about D.C. and the campus from when the four women graduated, according to Floyd.
All four women were trailblazers in their field and represent how their time at Georgetown led to careers in nursing, Floyd said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
“There are common themes that we discovered that were definitely important to their development that kept them persevering along the way,” Floyd said. “It was definitely about their perseverance, the resilience factors that they used to navigate that space in a time period where there was still segregation occurring.”
Conducting interviews with the four nursing graduates emphasized the importance of community, Yearwood said. She hopes to use their stories to write a paper with recommendations for Georgetown students, especially students from minority communities, as they navigate their time at the university.
“All of these women were able to identify a community where they got their support and helped them be successful at Georgetown,” Yearwood said. “I think the other thing that they talked about was really just being true to yourself and knowing yourself. When you come to college and you’re going through life, it’s about knowing who you are and what you want, because it helps to keep you leaning forward and keeps you with your eye on your goal.”
Yearwood and Floyd planned to bring the four graduates to campus to host a panel for students, but plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the panel will be rescheduled, Yearwood and Floyd hope to make their interviews available to students in order to share their work this coming spring, according to Yearwood.
While Yearwood and Floyd’s project is thorough, they say it only scratches the surface of stories to be shared from Georgetown’s history.
“I think my biggest takeaway was that there are so many wonderful stories out there for people who were part of the Georgetown fabric,” Yearwood said, “And we don’t even know half the stories that we should know.”