Black History Month 2023 Tribute - Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson, PhD, RN, FAAN

Founding members of the National Black Nurses Association Sitting: Phyllis Jenkins, Lauranne Sams, Betty Smith Williams and Ethelrine Shaw. Standing: Gloria Rookard, Betty Jo Davidson, Mary Harper, Doris Wilson, Mattiedna K. Johnson, Phyllis Davis, Mattie Watkins, and Florrie Jefferson.
Feb 28, 2023

We round out Dr. Freida Outlaw's spotlight on three African American nurse leaders who blazed trails personifying the spirit of this year's Black History Month, Black Resistance, with the following tribute to Dr. Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson, one of the founders of the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)

Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson, PhD, RN, FAAN

What I remember most about Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson, PhD, RN FAAN is the feeling you got when talking with her about some personal or academic problem, challenge, or obstacle you were facing while a Minority Fellow at the American Nurses Association. It felt like talking with that special aunt in your family who you knew would be kind, listen carefully, be compassionate, and not critical while helping you work through the issue. On first look, she had a stern facial expression that would burst into an infectious smile very quickly. I was also very impressed with how much she was able to mediate conflict between and among a group of strong-minded driven nurses of color of African descent. She was the go-to person when conflict resolution among the sister/brotherhood was needed, and she always did it with a calm demeanor and a soft voice tone. Finally, she might have been the most powerful person in the room at the time, but you would not have known it as she had a very humble persona.

Dr. Shaw-Nickerson was a very accomplished educator, having taught at The Ohio State University College of Nursing for more than thirty years, retiring with the title of Professor Emeritus.

Over the course of her career Dr. Shaw-Nickerson was a quiet trailblazer. She was a founding member of the National Black Nurses Association and was the first officer of programs. Other accomplishments included being inducted in 1979 into the American Academy of Nursing.

She was the first African American to be President of the American Nurses Foundation serving from 1985-1989. In 1990 she was awarded the American Nurses Foundation Distinguished Services Award. Dr. Shaw-Nickerson also served as a member of the American Nurses Association Board of Directors and held the position of 2nd Vice President on the Board. These accomplishments were the result of very bold actions and strong resolve on her part at a time when it was very rare for the American Nurses Association to have people of color of African descent in leadership roles. Furthermore, she served on the American Nurses Association Human Rights Commission.

Dr. Shaw-Nickerson served very early in the duration of the Minority Fellowship Program at the American Nurses Association as a member of the National Advisory Committee. (NAC). Her presence on the NAC was crucial to its success and development as she brought a calm, humble, peacemaking demeanor to a group of very high-powered, driven, strong-minded men and women.

In 1974 at The Ohio State University, she was awarded the School of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award and in 1985 initiated The Ohio State College of Nursing Minority Scholarship, which still exists.

Finally, Dr. Shaw-Nickerson’s pioneering work in affirmative action for nursing and The Ohio State University was essential and can be seen threaded through all of her efforts to increase diversity in nursing. Her trailblazing efforts serves as a blueprint for how a very calm, softspoken, wise and humble woman influenced the growth and development of increasing the pathway for increasing the presence of people of color of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups in nursing in general and specifically in psychiatric mental health nursing.

Words to describe Dr. Shaw by Annie J. Carter, PhD, RN (1st Black president of the Tennessee Nurses Association -1973-1975, American Nurses Association Board of Directors-1982-1984, ANA Commission on Human Rights-1978-1981)

• Compassionate - During an ANA Human Rights Commission retreat in Southern California a group of nurses including Drs. Carter and Shaw saw a man lying in the street. While all the nurses were looking, only Dr. Shaw-Nickerson went over to the man to help him. That compassionate nature was how she worked with fellows, always seeking to help.
• Peace Maker - As a long-term member of the MFP/ANA National Advisory Committee, she was viewed as the person who was always called upon to resolve conflict between and among other members on the committee. It was her reputation for integrity, her communication skills and her problem solving recognized by all who knew her.
• Humble - Dr. Ethelrine Shaw-Nickerson was very humble. She did not need to be the person at the front of the line or be the one that was given the credit for all the work being done. She was a collaborator and included everyone in the recognition of accomplishments.
• Fighter - Although she was gentle and soft-spoken, Dr. Shaw-Nickerson did not avoid a fight about issues for which she was passionate such as the contribution to nursing of the Minority Fellowship Program. However, she was a very strategic fighter. For example, she was being mentored as a young nurse academician at the Ohio State University, by Dr. Grayce Sills. Dr. Sills was a very influential psychiatric mental health nurse of European descent, who was a full professor at Ohio State, and influential in many areas of nursing, including the American Nurses Association (ANA). Together they were a mighty force that put pressure on the ANA to support the MFP/ANA within the infrastructure of the American Nurses Association.

Caption: Founding members of the National Black Nurses Association

Sitting: Phyllis Jenkins, Lauranne Sams, Betty Smith Williams and Ethelrine Shaw.
Standing: Gloria Rookard, Betty Jo Davidson, Mary Harper, Doris Wilson, Mattiedna K. Johnson, Phyllis Davis, Mattie Watkins, and Florrie Jefferson.

Read other Black History Month tributes to Rhetaugh Etheldra Graves Dumas PhD, RN, FAAN and Mary Starke Harper PhD, RN, FAAN.