The Catholic University of America

Feb. 4, 2010

CUA Postpones Awarding of Honorary Doctorate to Nursing Pioneer

  Ida Cammon Robinson, pictured in the 1948 CUA yearbook.

A Catholic University graduate from more than 50 years ago will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the university in recognition of her contributions to the nursing profession and nursing education.

Ida Cammon Robinson was among the first African-American graduates of CUA’s School of Nursing. After earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing education in 1948, she went on to a distinguished nursing career, including serving as director of the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing-Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., president of Catholic University, had planned to confer the honorary degree at a private luncheon on Thursday, Feb. 11, Robinson's 90th birthday. That ceremony has been postponed because of the forecast for more snow.

Robinson entered CUA in 1945. As an undergraduate, she was among four women of color in her class.

Robinson once told an interviewer, “Back then, hospitals would hire (African-American nurses) to work nights — but not day. We could only work nightshift, and leadership positions were out. And when I was working nightshift, many patients would say, ‘Where is the nurse?’ and I would say, ‘I am the nurse.’ And the patient would say, ‘No. We want the nurse.’”

Said Nalini Jairath, CUA’s dean of nursing, “She was one of the first African-American students to graduate from the School of Nursing at a time when segregation affected the ability of African-American nurses to practice and when baccalaureate education in nursing was regarded in many circles as unnecessary for professional practice.”

Robinson returned to CUA for graduate work in the 1950s. She earned a master’s degree in nursing in 1958.

“Her commitment to pursuing first a baccalaureate degree and then a master’s degree from CUA exemplifies her vision of professional nursing practice, her appreciation of the importance of education shaped by faith, and her courage in the face of considerable adversity,” Jairath says.

Ida Robinson today

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Robinson was an instructor at the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing, where she trained and mentored scores of nurses. She was director of the hospital’s School of Nursing from 1968 to 1973. The hospital and its nursing program became part of Howard University in 1967. Robinson is a past recipient of the Howard University Service Award.

In the 1970s, she was director of education and training at Children’s National Medical Center. The former chair of the District of Columbia boards of practical and registered nursing, Robinson has been active in the American Nurses Association and the Black Nurses Association of Greater Washington.

She still mentors nurses and contributes to the health of the Washington community through her work at Because We Care, a nonprofit health education and training organization.

“It is my hope that this special occasion will encourage and inspire all health-care providers to fully use their special gifts to ensure that everyone's health needs are addressed locally, nationally and globally,” Robinson says.

Last year, a resolution by the Council of the District of Columbia recognized Robinson for her “contributions that help enhance the quality of life of others.” At a ceremony in which the resolution was presented, Leslie Palmieri, director of development at CUA, called Robinson the “perfect alumna of CUA’s School of Nursing.” Palmieri told Robinson: “Your life and work embody every skill and value we hope to instill in our students.”