Home/ Who Really Was the First American Indian RN?
Who Really Was the First American Indian RN?
by Pam Chwedyk Minority Nurse Writer
On July 1, 2002, Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail, RN (1903-1981) became the first American Indian nurse to be inducted into the American Nursing Association’s prestigious Hall of Fame. In reporting this history-making event in our Fall 2002 issue, Minority Nurse noted that Yellowtail, a pioneering activist who fought tirelessly to improve the quality of health care available to Indian people, was the first American Indian registered nurse in the United States.
Or was she? We recently received an intriguing email from a reader named Joyce Heywood, who discovered our article about Yellowtail in the online Vital Signs news archives on MinorityNurse.com.
“Susie Yellowtail was NOT the first Native American registered nurse,” she writes. “My grandmother, Elizabeth Sadoques Mason (1897-1985), and her sister, Maude Sadoques (who became an Episcopalian nun and took the name Sister Benedicta) were both full-blooded Abenaki Indians and both became registered nurses. Elizabeth studied in New York and became an RN in 1919. (I have a copy of her nursing certificate to back this up.) Maude actually became a nurse before my grandmother did, although I do not have [documentation for this]. I could be wrong about this part, but I believe Maude may have been born in Canada on the Odanak Reserve [for Abenaki Indians in Quebec]. However, I am certain that my grandmother was born in the USA.
“I am not trying to take anything away from Susie Yellowtail’s amazing life and career,” Heywood continues. “She deserves much credit and recognition and is definitely an inspiration to all. However, my grandmother worked as a nurse in New Hampshire right up until her retirement in the late 1950s or early 1960s and I believe that deserves recognition, too. She, Maude and three of their sisters were all fantastic role models, each in different ways, for any human beings, and especially for any Native Americans.
“I am not sure if my great aunt and grandmother were really the first Native American RNs, but I can document that my grandmother, at least, predates Susie Yellowtail. I think this [question] should be investigated and a real search done to ascertain who really was the first Native American nurse.
“[Here is] a photo of my grandmother [taken] at her nursing graduation,” Heywood adds. “I think she looks very proud of her nursing degree. I know she served her profession admirably.”