|Photo courtesy of harvardartmuseums.org|
Deaths among New York City’s black population from tuberculosis and other preventable diseases was epidemic in 1900. The Charity Organization Society, or COS, was a philanthropic organization that started in Europe and made its way to America and was focused on addressing the issues that stemmed from lack of education and poverty, and not just providing relief to the underprivileged.
A physician leading the COS in 1900 felt strongly that having a black nurse who could educate the black population about prevention and treatment of tuberculosis would influence the death rate in this group. Dr. Devine was only able to convince the COS to hire a black nurse by making it a temporary, experimental hiring and by getting a philanthropist to assume responsibility for her salary.
Jessie Sleet was the nurse they hired for a two-month trial. She ended up working for the organization for 9 years and was the first black public health nurse in the United States. She paved the way for other black public health nurses and cared for hundreds of exclusively black patients during her years of service.
Can you imagine knowing that the organization hiring you didn't want to hire you, would only take you on a two-month trial, and only because a private person would provide the salary?
Jessie Sleet knew all of that and took the job anyway.*
In a letter to the American Journal of Nursing in 1901, Jessie Sleet described the work she had done to that point. She often provided direct care to patients who had no family member that she could educate. Her biggest contribution, though, was educating her patients and families and encouraging them to seek treatment. In the true spirit of nursing, she didn’t just concentrate on providing direct hands-on care, she guided her patients and their families to the right resources so they could help themselves.
I wanted to include a photo of Jessie Sleet, but couldn’t find one that I could positively identify as her.
D’Antonio, P., Baer, E., Rinker, S., & Lynaugh, J. E. (Eds.) (2006). Nurses’ Work: Issues and Across Time and Place, 1st Edition.