The Woman Who Broke the Color Barrier at the University of Maryland

Esther McCready, now 78 years old, is a volunteer worker at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She helps out at the school’s museum.

One of the exhibits at the museum is a letter offering her admission to the school. Sixty years ago in 1949, McCready applied to the all-white nursing school. At the time the only black students at the University of Maryland were in the law school. The school took no action on her application until legal action by Thurgood Marshall and his team at the Legal Defense Fund won her admission in the courts.

In 1950 McCready became the first black student at the nursing school. She was not permitted to live in the regular nursing quarters. An office was converted into living quarters where she lived alone. On her first day at school, a white nurse told her, “If you don’t pray, you won’t get out of here because nobody here is for you.”

McCready faced open hostility from her white classmates, some of whom even tried to sabotage her work. Some teachers ignored her in the classroom. But she persisted and graduated from the nursing school in 1953 and became a public health nurse in Baltimore. She later worked at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. While in New York she earned a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and performed in the chorus of Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera.

Soon after McCready won admission to the nursing school, the University of Maryland opened all of its professional schools and its undergraduate program to African Americans.