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*On National Nurse Day, May 6, this date in 1920, affirms the Black Cross Nurses Association. The organization was the women's auxiliary of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.
Officially the Universal African Black Cross Nurses, an international organization of nurses, was founded based upon the model of the Red Cross. They were established to provide health services and education to people of African descent. In 1920, Henrietta Vinton Davis established the Black Cross Nurses (BCN) in Philadelphia as an auxiliary of (UNIA). The BCN served as the women's auxiliary of the UNIA, placing women in a supportive role, while the men's auxiliary served in a protective role. Marcus Garvey wanted everyone in the UNIA to feel they belonged within the organization, and the BCN served that purpose for women.
In the beginning, the BCN was based on the World War I nurse model of the Red Cross. Local chapters were established with a matron, head nurse, secretary, and treasurer to provide health services and hygiene education to black community members. Few programs existed that would admit people of African descent into nursing training at the time, and many health facilities provided unequal care to black patrons; one of the organization's goals was to address these discrepancies. Doctors, nurses, and lay practitioners took courses ranging from six months to a year to ensure that standardized care was being given.
In addition, upon graduation from the course, each member was required to purchase and wear their official uniform. All white uniforms were worn for the dress and official functions, including dresses, shoes, stockings, and a cap adorned with a black cross encircled by a red background with a green center. Duty uniforms consisted of a green dress over an ivory apron accompanied by black shoes and stockings, which set the BCN nurses apart from other nurses and united them as symbolically as members. Green was chosen as a representation of growth and renewal.
Criticism of the dress and cape stemmed from a comparison to a nun's habit, while UNIA men's uniforms resembled military attire. Additional responsibilities of the BCN included singing in a choir and marching in parades. Choir rehearsals were on Friday. Marching practice was necessary as local chapters participated in parades on holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, sometimes carrying the Black Nationalist flag.