Staupers, Mabel (1890–1989)

views updated

Staupers, Mabel (1890–1989)

African-American nurse and activist responsible for gaining black nurses admittance into the American military. Name variations: Mabel Keaton Staupers; Mabel Doyle Keaton Staupers. Born Mabel Doyle on February 27, 1890, in Barbados, West Indies; died on November 29, 1989; daughter of Thomas Doyle and Pauline Doyle; graduated from Freedmen's Hospital School of Nursing (now Howard University College of Nursing) in Washington, D.C., in 1917; married James Max Keaton, in 1917 (divorced); married Fritz C. Staupers, in 1931 (died 1949); no children.


No Time for Prejudice: A Story of the Integration of Negroes in the United States (1961).

One of most significant figures in the history of African-Americans in the American nursing profession, Mabel Staupers was born Mabel Doyle in the West Indies in 1890, migrating to the United States with her parents Thomas and Pauline Doyle in 1903. The family settled in New York City's Harlem, where she completed her schooling, and in 1914 she moved to Washington, D.C., to attend the Freedmen's Hospital School of Nursing. She graduated with class honors three years later and began her career as a private-duty nurse.

Staupers' talents for leadership emerged in 1920 when she helped organize the Booker T. Washington Sanitarium, the first in-patient center in Harlem for black tuberculosis sufferers, and one of few city facilities at that time to employ black doctors. Instrumental in establishing the Harlem Committee of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association, Staupers served as the committee's executive secretary for 12 years. Her experiences in Harlem, and also at the Jefferson Hospital Medical College in Philadelphia in the early 1920s, awakened Staupers to the discrimination and segregation within the medical community.

Elected executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1934, Staupers and president Estelle Masse Riddle formed a productive partnership that was to continue for 15 years. The NACGN had been founded in 1908 by Martha Minerva Franklin and Adah Thoms in order to advance the status of African-American nurses, most of whom were barred from nursing schools and professional associations and even from working as nurses in a number of states. Together they led the struggle of black nurses to win full integration into the American nursing profession.

A great organizer and astute political tactician, Staupers was a dynamic force for social change. She played a crucial role in the desegregation of the military's nursing corps during World War II. Staupers lobbied against the Army's strict quota and the Navy's total ban on black nurses, attacking the hypocrisy of Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk's plan to draft women into the understaffed Nurses' Corps. After an appeal for support to Eleanor Roosevelt in November 1944, Staupers' highly publicized campaign led both services to change their policies the following year.

Staupers welcomed this victory as another step in the black struggle for professional acceptance, saying, "The Negro nurse is not only fighting for integration in the war setup, she expects to walk along, step by step, with her white sisters in the postwar period." This goal was achieved in 1948 when the American Nurses Association (ANA) began admitting black members. Staupers dissolved the NACGN in 1949, and its members were integrated into the ANA. In 1951, she was honored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) with the Spingarn medal, presented to her by Lillian Smith , activist and author of Strange Fruit (1944). In 1961, Staupers published an account of her battles on behalf of black nurses in No Time for Prejudice: A Story of the Integration of Negroes in the United States.

Staupers was married twice: at the age of 27 to James Max Keaton of Asheville, North Carolina, whom she later divorced, and from 1931 until his death in 1949 to Fritz C. Staupers of New York City. Mabel Staupers, who had no children, died at the age of 99.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Healers and Scientists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York