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In honor of Black History Month, our blog this week features Clydie Pugh-Myers, a graduate of the first class of Duke’s licensed practical nursing (LPN) program in 1949.
Duke’s LPN program was established in 1948 as a collaboration of Duke University Hospital, Durham City School, and the North Carolina Department of Vocational Education to train African American nurses. Although 72 women qualified and registered for the program its inaugural year, only 26 would pass the rigorous training and examinations to graduate the following year. The LPN program transferred to the Durham Industrial Education Center, which would later become Durham Technical Community College, in the early 1960s.On January 18, 2006, Jessica Roseberry conducted an oral history interview with Pugh-Myers at her home in Durham, NC. During the interview, Pugh-Myers recounted her memories as a young women in the LPN training program and her subsequent career working as a practical nurse in both public and private sectors.
Although Pugh-Myers and many of her colleagues were ultimately hired by Duke Hospital, she recalled how Duke initially resisted hiring the new graduates because of their race. The memory of such professional roadblocks stuck with Pugh-Myers for the rest of her life. “It was tough,” she recalled, “but we hung together. We were scared, for one thing. We were scared whether you was doing right or scared whether you was doing wrong. You didn’t know.” Pugh-Myers worked at Duke Hospital for two years and then entered the Durham Professional Nurses Registry and began work as a private nurse. Pugh-Myers was one of the first African American nurses to work for the registry and served many of Durham’s prominent citizens during her long career.
When Pugh-Myers began her career she and other the LPN training program graduates were the first professional African American nurses working in the white ward of then segregated Duke Hospital, an experience chronicled in her oral history. She provided recollections of various Duke physicians and the impact integration had on healthcare in Durham. Pugh-Myers looked back on her time serving Duke and the community of Durham fondly, stating that her career as a practical nurse allowed her opportunities to travel and meet all sorts of people, opportunities she otherwise would have never had. She recognized her unique place in the history of African Americans at DUMC and how she and her colleagues blazed the trail for many others: “when we entered Duke, there wasn’t any professional help black there, nothing but floor workers, dish washers, and the kitchen help, and we were the first. No other technicians were there, so we were really rare. At this day and time, it shows how far that we have came.”
This blog post was contributed by Archives Intern Caroline Waller.