North Carolina Licensed Practical Nurses Association Records

The Duke University Medical Center Archives is happy to announce that the North Carolina Licensed Practical Nurses Association (NCLPNA) Records are processed and open for research. The collection contains administrative records related to the day-to-day operations of the NCLPNA, such as meeting minutes, reports, correspondence, education and conference materials, publications, financial and membership records, photographs, publications, and ephemera. Major topics covered in this collection include licensed practical nursing, nursing education standards in North Carolina, African American women in medicine, North Carolina hospital systems, and healthcare advocacy.

The NCLPNA Records were donated in March 2022 by Jessie Parker Smith, LPN, who served as former Executive Treasurer of the NCLPNA and was a recipient of the Lillian Kuster Award, presented by the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses. She was also a member of one of the first graduating classes of LPNs from the Durham School of Practical Nursing, and her career at Duke Hospital spanned over 40 years. In 2006, she was celebrated by Duke University Medical Center as a member of the Trailblazers, the name given to a cohort of the first African American healthcare professionals hired by Duke. You can read more about her experiences as a Black women in healthcare in her 2022 interview held at the Medical Center Archives.

The NCLPNA was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1947 with 22 charter members. Their mission was to provide professional development, continuing education opportunities, and political advocacy for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and practical nursing students in the state of North Carolina. The NCLPNA stands out as a nursing group established by African American women and LPNs of color who shared knowledge and education, improved patient care, and advocated for their profession. In the late 1940s, when North Carolina hospitals still widely segregated hospital services based on a patient’s race, the role of LPN was a vital entry point for women of color into the healthcare profession. In Durham, for instance, women of color, including Jessie Parker Smith and fellow Trailblazer Clydie Pugh-Myers, earned an LPN certification through the Durham School of Practical Nursing and gained clinical training at Duke Hospital. While the NCLPNA began as a nursing group composed of predominantly Black women and nurses of color, by the 1960s, representation grew to reflect the diverse array of backgrounds and identity groups, including men, held by LPNs throughout North Carolina.

Beyond documenting the administrative history of the NCLPNA, this collection is also a glimpse into the vibrant inner worlds of North Carolina hospitals during the latter half of the twentieth century. Growing up in the 1990s, I always overheard my mother and aunt talking about their own lives as registered nurses, when they worked at New Hanover Regional Medical Center—known to me simply as “The Hospital.” Before landing my own job in a hospital decades later, I always wanted to know: Who else works at The Hospital? What goes on in there?

While processing this collection, I came across traces of the nurses themselves in their correspondence and bits of ephemera, all mailed by nurses across the state directly to the NCLPNA headquarters in Durham: doodles carefully traced in pencil of Lucy playing nurse with Snoopy as her patient, used for designing educational workshop and conference flyers; greeting cards and stationery home to a menagerie of creatures, including a raccoon, a snail, and Garfield; lengthy letters jotted down in looping cursive during nights spent at the ward desk; and an abundance of gossip and hand-snipped newspaper clippings.


"Some nurse"
“Some nurse.” Ephemera includes undated pencil doodles of Lucy playing nurse, much to Snoopy’s consternation as her patient. Drawings like this might be run through a photocopier and the resulting paper copies would be cut up and pasted onto flyers to promote upcoming events and membership, with the empty speech bubbles providing a space to write in a call to action.


Hand-drawn flyer Hand-drawn flyer
Hand-drawn flyers promoting a 1969 continuing educational workshop about cancer, held at Duke University Medical Center, and a 1974 membership drive for the Oxford Area Chapter of the NCLPNA.


Letter  Letter illustration
Letters mailed to the NCLPNA headquarters in Durham were accompanied by creatures of all kinds.

Cardinal Echo, the NCLPNA’s official newspaper
One of many eye-catching backpages of Cardinal Echo, the NCLPNA’s official newspaper. For the Spring 1982 issue, ads line up beside a call to join the NCLPNA underneath an serious-looking, red-eyed cat, who, as the copy indicates, “can see in the dark, but you cannot. Look to your association to help you make the right move.”

One such letter stands out. Signed by Sybil Lucas, LPN, dated December 8, 1964, she imagines a future in which her letters sit undisturbed in an archive for centuries, only to be re-discovered by “some STRANGE LOOKING LITTLE SPACE AGE L.P.N. WITH A SCANT TIGHT TRANSPARENT STERILE UNIFORM ON LOOKING THROUGH THE ARCHIVES, OF COURSE AFTER THE SEAL WAS BROKEN AND FINDING THIS PAPER YELLOWED WITH AGE. The little gal would be so germ conscious that she would be afraid to go into details until she thoroughly sterilized the document. Then she would put it on the glass top table in the huge ARCHIVES BUILDING in Raleigh, N.C. which would still be the Capital of N.C. SPACE STATE.”

Letter section
A section from Sybil Lucas’ (germ-free) typed letter, dated December 8, 1964. While Duke University Medical Center Archives reading room does not have a glass top table, Sybil Lucas’ letters will nevertheless be available for research.

While the NCLPNA no longer exists as a professional network for LPNs today, licensed practical nursing continues to be an area of specialization for many nurses in North Carolina. The correspondence contained in the collection, and the letters written by Sybil Lucas in particular, opens the door to many avenues of study about the history of licensed practical nursing in the state of North Carolina, including discourse about race in healthcare settings and interpersonal relationships among nursing professionals. This collection will be of interest to anyone who is curious about nursing legislation, education, and advocacy, as well as the experiences of Black and African American healthcare professionals working in North Carolina hospitals and healthcare systems during the mid- to late-twentieth century.

Archival collections like the North Carolina Licensed Practical Nurses Association (NCLPNA) Records provide context, evidence, and testimony of the day-to-day experiences of LPNs, and we welcome all researchers who are interested in accessing the collection.

For more about the Archives’ holdings, select Collections Listing to view all of our collections.

For any questions, contact the Archives staff.

This blog post was contributed by Medical Center Archives Intern Kayla Cavenaugh