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Thu, 03.09.1865

Jesse Sleet Scales, Nurse born

*The birth of Jessie Sleet Scales is celebrated on this date in 1865.  She was a Black nurse and public health advocate.   

Jessie Sleet was born in Stratford, Canada. She attended Provident Hospital in Chicago and graduated in 1895. She then took a half-year course at the Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C. She subsequently worked at a winter health resort in Lakewood, New Jersey, for two years and then decided to become a district nurse.  Sleet first applied to the St. Phoebe's Mission in Brooklyn, New York, and although they showed, directed her to the Charity Organization Society (COS). 

There she was interviewed by their general secretary, Dr. Devine, who noted the high incidence of tuberculosis within the Black population in New York City.   He decided a Black district nurse should be hired due to the period when there were many racial barriers. Two months later, on October 3, 1900, despite opposition from the committee, Scales became the first Black district nurse at the COS on his recommendation. Her job was to persuade the New York Black community to accept treatment for tuberculosis.  She entered the contract knowing there was a two-month experimental period. She did so well at her job; however, one year later, she was fully accepted as an employee by the committee and was published by The American Journal of Nursing.

Her report was titled "A Successful Experiment" and read:  "I beg to render to you a report of the work done by me as a district nurse among the colored people of New York City during the months of October and November. I have visited forty-one families and made 156 calls in connection with these families caring for nine cases of consumption, four cases of peritonitis, two cases of chickenpox, two cases of cancer, one case of diphtheria, two cases of heart disease, two cases of tumor, one case of gastric catarrh, two cases of pneumonia, four cases of rheumatism, and two cases of scalp wound. I have given baths, applied poultices, dressed wounds, washed and dressed newborn babies, cared for mothers" (Sleet, 1901, p. 729).  

She went on to stay there for nine years until she married her husband, John R. Scales. The two lived in New York and had one daughter, Edna Scales.  In addition to her work with the Charity Organization Society, Scales collaborated with Elizabeth Tyler. Together, they successfully established a branch of the Henry Settlement known as the Stillman House. The Stillman House functioned to improve health conditions in the Black community. This branch served Blacks. Scales and Tyler then successfully provided outstanding nursing care to underprivileged families. Jessie Scales, who contributed to the development and growth of public health nursing in New York City, died in 1956. 

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