6 Facts about Esther McCready, a pioneer in Nursing

6 Facts about Esther McCready, a pioneer in Nursing

On September 2, 2020,  Esther McCready passed away. She was a nurse, teacher, and Activist. Born and raised on Dallas Street, Baltimore, McCready achieved greatness in the face of adversity. Esther E. McCready made history in 1950 as the first American American to be admitted to the University of Maryland-School of Nursing. 

 Her courage inspired many African American nurses for the generation to come.  McCready changed nursing by challenging the system and incorporating social justice and racial equality into her work. 

Here are 6 Facts about nursing pioneer Esther McCready, from her accomplishments to how she inspires nurses.

Discovered her love for nursing at 8

Esther McCready decided that she wanted to pursue a career in nursing at eight years old. She was determined to become a nurse after seeing the nurses at the facility she regularly had check-ups. Determined to become a nurse, McCready began working as a nurse’s aid at the Sinai Hospital on Broadway in East Baltimore during high school.

Additional Information: McCready spent 20 years as an elementary school educator in the New York City Public School system inspiring young minds.

Desegregated the nursing program at the University of Maryland

Have you ever heard of McCready v. Byrd 1949 (Byrd was Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, the president of the University of Maryland)

In 1949, McCready got accepted to the nursing program at the University of Maryland but was denied admittance because of the color of her skin. As compensation, the university offered to pay for her admittance to a predominately African American university. With the help of the NAACP, McCready sued the University of Maryland.

She worked with lawyers Charles Hamilton and Donald Gaines Murray, and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, to prove that it was unlawful to ban McCready from attending a school she had rightfully admitted to based on the color of her skin.

Through her case and determination to attend the University of Maryland, changed the U.S education system’s landscape through desegregation. Her case laid the foundation for the landmark 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education

 Her courage inspired many African American nurses for the generation to come.  McCready changed nursing by challenging the system and incorporating social justice and racial equality into her work.

Note: On April 14, 1950, the Maryland Court of  Appeals ruled in favor of McCready. Her case not only opened doors for nursing at the University of Maryland but other professional institutions in the U.S.  

From Nursing Student to Head Nurse

McCready graduated in 1953 and began working in hospitals and facilities in Baltimore and Boston, and New York after graduation. As a nurse in Post-Operative Recovery at Cornell Medical Center worked to ensure quality care to patients. She was then promoted to Head Nurse of an OB-GYN recovery unit.

An honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from the University of Maryland

In 2015, McCready received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore; 60+ years after her case against the university. She received the university’s 25th inaugural Visionary Pioneers honor. They honored her for her work and contribution to nursing and her community.

Fun Fact: McCready’s 1953 Florence Nightingale cap and admission letter are on display at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Civil Rights Activist and Political Campaigner


After her case, McCready continues working on civil rights matters in Maryland. In 1959, McCready attended the “Youth March for Integrated Schools” in Washington, D. C, and sat next to Dr. Martin Luther King after the March. As an educator, she continued to serve on boards and mentor the younger generation, advocating for equality and justice.

Maryland inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2004 for her contribution to Maryland’s economic, political, cultural, and social life. McCready to be active politically in Maryland and spoke on C-SPAN about the birth of the civil rights movement in Maryland, the importance of social justice and perseverance, and her experiences.

Note: McCready worked with Reverend Adam Clayton Powel Jr, the first African American from New York to serve in the U.S Congress on many of his campaigns.

Opera Singer

 McCready received a master’s degree in Music at the Manhattan School of Music. She was a member of an opera singers’ ensemble and toured with the Metropolitan Opera and toured U.S and Europe. 

Thank you, note

We honor and thank Esther McCready for being a pioneer and trailblazer in nursing. She accomplished and opened doors that had been closed to her and many people of color. Her perseverance and confidence in her skills are an inspiration for many Black nurses. Today, 49% of the nursing students at the University of Maryland are students of color.  

Esther McCready spent her life as an educator, activist, speaker, and pioneer in nursing.  We thank her for her service and for the people she helped and inspired.


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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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