M. Elizabeth Carnegie, 91; Advocated for Black Nurses

Nurse, author and scholar M. Elizabeth Carnegie broke color barriers.
Nurse, author and scholar M. Elizabeth Carnegie broke color barriers. (Howard University Photo - Howard University Photo)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008

M. Elizabeth Carnegie, 91, a ground-breaking nurse and educator who championed the cause of African American nurses, died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease Feb. 20 at her Chevy Chase home.

During a long career, Dr. Carnegie started one nursing school and led another, wrote books and professional journal articles, and challenged racism in its many forms. She most recently was a member of the board of visitors at Howard University's College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Sciences. Sixty-five years ago, she launched Hampton University's four-year nursing program, then spent 1945 to 1953 as professor and dean of Florida A&M University's school of nursing.

At a time when black nurses at some hospitals were not allowed to identify themselves as "Miss," only "Nurse," Dr. Carnegie insisted on the proper honorific. She refused to ride in hotel freight elevators while attending state nursing meetings in Florida and broke the color barrier as the first black nurse appointed to the board of the Florida Nurses Association. Her academic colleagues so feared for her safety that they prayed for her return every time she went on the road.

The appointment had its drawbacks; she was told she could not speak or vote at its meetings. She refused the honor until 1949, when she was officially elected as a legitimate, not just courtesy, member of the board.

"Up until then, we were limited to [attending] maybe one business meeting," Dr. Carnegie told a nursing Web site. "That was the main thing that I fought for." When she ran for election, she received the highest number of votes of any candidate and was elected first to a one-year term, then a three-year term.

Dr. Carnegie, a resident of Chevy Chase for the past 25 years, was a prolific writer and lecturer who also consulted for multiple schools and institutions.

"In nursing, you can be anything you want to be -- practitioner, educator, administrator, executive, researcher, journalist, consultant, congressional leader, policymaker, health advocate," she wrote in 2003.

A Baltimore native, Dr. Carnegie grew up in Washington and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1932. She entered the Lincoln nursing school in New York at 16, graduating four years later. She also received a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State College, a master's degree from Syracuse University and a doctorate in public administration from New York University in 1972.

Dr. Carnegie spent 25 years, from 1953 to 1978, on the editorial staff of the American Journal of Nursing and was past editor of the nursing research section. She has written, edited and contributed chapters to nearly 20 books and is the author of three editions of the award-winning "The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1854-1984" (1986).

She was a past president of the American Academy of Nursing and chairwoman of the ANA's Minority Fellowship Program Advisory Committee. Named in her honor were an endowed chair in nursing that focuses health disparities at Howard University and the nursing archives at Hampton University.

Among her awards are the George Arents Pioneer Medal from Syracuse University, the President's Award from Sigma Theta Tau International and the Living Legend Award from the Association of Black Nursing Faculty in Higher Education. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her husband of 10 years, Eric Carnegie, died in 1954.

Survivors include a brother, Roland Davis of Washington.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company