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Freedom Essay Contest Entry: Bladen County Nurse Pioneers

Contributed by Dr. Terri Duncan

2020 is proclaimed as “Year of the Nurse.” Visit the Appalachian State North Carolina Nursing History webpage https://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/, to find information on two outstanding home-grown, Bladen County nurses, who made an impact in their local community, North Carolina and beyond.

Edith McNeill Holmes, “Nurse Mac” was born and raised in the Clarkton area. Later she served Halifax County citizens as a pioneer public health midwife and midwife educator in the 1930-1940s leading the charge for maternity health and disease prevention. Nurse Mac’s service was
not limited to maternity care. She provided tuberculosis screening, worked as a school nurse, and visited farmers in the fields to provide vaccinations. During a recorded interview, Ms. Holmes described the challenges of poverty in rural areas, segregation, working with mixed race
populations, being an African American nurse, and the difficulties in obtaining resources to meet the needs of her clients.

Col. Mildred Irene Clark was born and raised in the Clarkton/Elkton area. As a pioneer nurse anesthetist on duty Dec. 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese invasion began, she worked three weeks without leaving the hospital, saving lives of many American soldiers. In 1950,
during the Korean War, she helped to establish the first MASH unit (Mobile Surgical Army Hospital) which was sent to Korea providing aide to our soldiers. Col. Clark wrote “Prayer for an Army Nurse” in 1956 and has been adopted by the Corps as its’ Creed. In 1963, Col. Clark became the 12th Chief Nurse of the United States Army Nurse Corps serving during the Vietnam area. During her tenure, for the first time, male nurses were commissioned in the Regular Army.

The American Nurses Association Nurses Code of Ethics guides nurses to provide care when needed, with respect for all clients be it an individual, family, group, community or population of people. In this the “Year of the Nurse” I am humbled to stand on the shoulders of Edith McNeill
Holmes who answered the call, providing care to the most vulnerable in public health, paving the way for public health response such as the current pandemic and to stand on the shoulders of Col. Mildred Irene Clark, answering the call to provide care to the military who fought so that I may lay my head down and sleep at night in a free nation, under God.

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