First African-American female anesthetist identified by Meharry librarians


Nashville, TN (TN Tribune)—Katherine Carson Dandridge, RN, is the first known African-American woman to become a nurse anesthetist, according to records at Meharry Medical College (MMC), a historically black medical college in Nashville, Tennessee. MMC is the largest repository of historical and medical research and advancements for African Americans in dental and medical health sciences and careers. After 60 years of existence, the MMC School of Nursing closed its doors in 1960.

An MMC launch program from May 1941 lists Dandridge as a graduate receiving a certificate in anesthesia. Additionally, a record of Dandridge as an anesthetist can be confirmed in the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) database.

According to the edition of Saturday April 19, 1941 of the Phoenix Index Journal Arizona-based Dr. Edward L. Turner, president of the MMC in 1941, said: “If Miss Dandridge is not the first black female anesthesiologist in all medical history, she is certainly the first we have heard of or which can be discovered. anywhere in America.

Dr Turner added: “The most remarkable thing about Miss Dandridge’s upcoming graduation is the extent of the training she received. The best white medical schools train their anesthesiologists for no more than nine months. Meharry’s course is a full year of study and training. A similar article was published in The crisis diary based in Nashville.

Dandridge was born November 23, 1909, in Youngstown, Ohio, before moving to Newcastle, Pennsylvania, where she graduated from high school. In 1936, she began nursing education at MMC’s nursing school and graduated from MMC’s four-year program with her RN license in May 1940. Online newspaper records indicate that Katherine Carson married Paul Dandridge when she was 21. Dandridge died in October 1992 at the age of 82.

Although Dandridge was the first in 1941, two other African American women earned certificates in anesthesia, although MMC did not graduate in 1942 due to World War II. Pauline Marable received her certificate in anesthesia and Bernice Lucille Rogers-Scrugs received certificates in radiography and anesthesia. The AANA database contains a record of Rogers-Scrugs, but no other information can be found on Marable. These three women are the only nurse graduates in anesthesia in MMC’s history.

Meharry Medical College applies for AANA membership on behalf of African American anesthesiologists

Information from the AANA archives sparked the search that led to the discovery of Katherine Carson Dandridge, the first African-American female anesthesiologist. The following is an account of the internal AANA discussion and actions that took place around extending membership privileges to anesthetists of color.

According to November 1942 AANA NewsletterAt the request of officials at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, the AANA Board of Trustees in a working session discussed the issue of membership as “admitting into the AANA nurse anesthetists of color who have taken a course in anesthesia”.

An active discussion ensued. In view of the fact that the occasion had not been offered for a sufficient study of this subject by the State associations, it was unanimously voted that this question be referred to a special committee to report to the board of directors.

The board was instructed to prepare recommendations for submission to the general members at the 1943 annual meeting. It was voted to “allow anesthesiologists of color to attend all scientific meetings of the association in the interval, and Meharry Medical College be so notified.”

After various delays and referrals of the matter for further study, the committee that passed membership powers to the Minnesota affiliate and the national committee, of which Lucy Richards was chairman, took the initiative in 1944 and approved the application of two qualified nurses. anesthesiologists of color on the grounds that the bylaws governing membership contained no statement of qualification regarding race.

Special thanks to:

Sandra Parham, MLIS
Library Executive Director
Meharry Medical College Library

Julia Drew Rather, MLS
Reference Librarian
Meharry Medical College Library


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