Lucy Craft Laney and the Lamar School of Nursing
“Last, but not least, is the burden of prejudice, heavier in that it is imposed by the strong, those from whom help, not hindrance, should come. . . .
No one suffers under the weight of this burden as the educated Negro woman does; and she must help to lift it.”
—Lucy Craft Laney,
“The Burden of the Educated Colored Woman,”
Report of the Hampton Negro Conference, July 1899
Image courtesy of the Georgia Capitol Museum
As the cornerstone was laid for the Lamar Hospital on March 11, 1895, “an immense throng … stood in red clay mud ankle deep while the rain beat in their faces,” bearing witness to this milestone in the history of health care for African Americans.
At the ceremony, Mayor W.B. Young spoke about Gazaway Bugg Lamar—the steamship entrepreneur, banker and philanthropist who had died in 1874, and bequeathed funds for hospitals in Savannah and Augusta for “the sick poor of the [African-American] race … [where] they would have equal attention with white persons.”
The next speaker was education pioneer Lucy Craft Laney, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and carpenter who had purchased his family’s freedom. Laney learned to read at age 4, and by age 12 was translating Latin texts. She graduated from Atlanta University in 1873 and went on to start Augusta’s first school for black children, in the basement of Christ Presbyterian Church.
In only two short years, her school grew from six students to more than 200, and in 1886, the school received an official state charter as the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute.
As Dr. William H. Doughty Jr. was orchestrating an expansion of City Hospital and helping to establish a nurse training program there, he helped secure the Lamar bequest to build a 75-bed hospital and nurse training school for African Americans. Initially dismissed as “a wild adventure on the part of an overly enthusiastic young surgeon,” the Lamar Hospital proved vital to Augusta’s growing population and the need for quality medical care for formerly enslaved people.
Laney was the obvious choice to help establish the program that would soon become the Lamar Hospital Training School, and she persuaded Virginia Borden, a white nurse living in Canada, to serve as superintendent and principal. Lamar thus became one of the South’s first nursing schools for African Americans, graduating its first class of nurses in 1896.
In 1906, Laney asked Mittie White, a graduate of the program, to take over as the school’s director as it expanded from a two-year to a three-year course of study. Laney recruited more teachers—black and white alike—and in 1915 the program moved into the Lamar Wing of University Hospital. Laney died in in 1933, but the school lived on, and by 1959 had graduated 1,103 nurses.
Racial segregation continued until, catalyzed by the broader Civil Rights movement, the Lamar School integrated with the Barrett School in 1965, forming the unified University Hospital School of Nursing. That legacy continues to thrive, and University Health Care System is proud to be designated by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as the only Magnet Hospital in Augusta today.