Scales, Jessie Sleet (fl. 1900)

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Scales, Jessie Sleet (fl. 1900)

First African-American public health nurse. Flourished around 1900; born in Stratford, Ontario, Canada; graduated from the Provident Hospital School of Nursing, Chicago, 1895.

Several historians have reached the conclusion that Jessie Sleet Scales was the first black public health nurse active in the United States. A native of southwestern Ontario—which in pre-Civil War times had been a prime terminus for the Underground Railroad—Scales graduated from Chicago's Provident Hospital School of Nursing in 1895, hoping to work in the field of public health. Moving to New York, she was rejected for many jobs simply because of her race, despite the fact that institutionally trained nurses were in short supply at the time. Scales was finally employed in 1900 by the Charity Organization Society to make home visits to black tuberculosis sufferers and convince them to seek medical treatment. Given the post on a two-month trial basis, she did so well that her reports on her work were submitted by her supervisor for publication in the American Journal of Nursing, and the editor of the Journal remarked on her capabilities and altruism. Scales continued her work with the society for nine years.


Carnegie, Mary Elizabeth. The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing 1854–1984. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott, 1986.

James M. Manheim , freelance writer and editor, Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Scales, Jessie Sleet (fl. 1900)

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