Nursing & Healthcare News
Farewell to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
Looking back at the groundbreaking career of the first RN in Congress
On Jan. 3, 2023, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA (D-Texas-30), the first registered nurse elected to the House of Representatives, retired after 15 consecutive terms in Congress.
Nursing in a Segregated Era
Born in Waco, Texas, Johnson’s path to nursing began with a $30 correspondence course she completed while in high school. Her father insisted she go to college to study nursing, but there were no programs open to Black students in heavily segregated Texas, so in 1952, she enrolled in the nursing program at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana — her first experience of an integrated school.
After graduating, she returned to Texas and applied for a nursing job at the Dallas VA Hospital. It wasn’t easy: Listing her name as “Eddie B. Johnson” on the application got her in the door, but the interviewers were dismayed to discover that she was a Black woman rather than a white man!
The hospital refused her a place in the nurses’ dormitory because of her race, and Johnson experienced bias and bigotry from her colleagues. She also found patients reluctant to take her seriously because she looked so young. However, she persevered, eventually becoming the hospital’s chief psychiatric nurse and earning her BSN.