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Black History Month: Honoring Frances Reed Elliott Davis

A historical photo of Frances Reed Elliott Davis.

This Black History Month, we’re honoring Black men and women whose contributions were essential to our history. Meet Frances Reed Elliott Davis whose passion for nursing and helping communities led her to become the first African-American nurse at the Red Cross.

Davis was born on April 28, 1883, in Shelby, N.C. Sadly, by her fifth birthday, both of her parents had died, and she was put into the foster care system. In the system she experienced many hardships, but showed her ambition and ability to learn at a young age. She even taught herself how to read and write.

Her passion for learning led her to Knoxville College, a boarding school in Tennessee. When Davis graduated, she knew she wanted to become a nurse, so in 1910 she entered the Freedmen’s School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. There she was the first African American in the district to pass the final board exam. In 1918, her work with the Red Cross began.

That year, she became the first officially registered African-American nurse to be accepted into the American Red Cross Nursing Service. In the service she was assigned to move to Chattanooga, where she provided medical care for the families of service members during WWI. She also served as the director of nurses training at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital in Alabama before moving to Michigan. There she accepted a position at the Detroit Public Health Department with the help of the Red Cross.

During her time in Michigan, Davis helped organize the first training school for African American nurses at the Dunbar Hospital. In the 1940s, Davis established a childcare facility that caught the attention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt who helped plan for and fund the center. Davis continued to run the facility until she was sixty-two years old. She retired seven years later and passed away in 1965.

Thank you, Frances Reed Elliott Davis, for your meaningful contribution to the Red Cross and the field of nursing.