Thelma Pegues, MN, BSN, RN has been a trailblazer, an advocate and a mentor. Her commitment to civil rights and nursing have often overlapped and intertwined, most notably in her work on the inclusion of ethnic and racial minority content in nursing curriculum.
Thelma entered Dillard University in New Orleans ot pursue a course of study with plans of becoming a physician. At Dillard, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Pre-Medicine. However, her education was interrupted and redirected with her relocation to Seattle, Washington.
Thelma attended the University of Washington School of Nursing, completing her Baccalaureate Degree in Nursing Science in 1955 and a Master’s Degree in Nursing in 1969. In 2001 she was given Minority Student Recognition by the University of Washington which honors students who experienced, confronted, and broke racial barriers which enabled future minorities to attend schools of higher learning.
Her leadership abilities and willingness to serve are demonstrated by her appointment to responsible leadership position in organizations such as WSNA, AARP, Delta Sigma Thau, an International Public Service Organization, the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses’ Organization and other groups. Thelma joined WSNA in 1956 and has been an active participating member for many years, serving two terms as Chairperson of the Minority Affairs Committee. She also served on the WSNA Board of Directors for two years by appointment.
As a member of AARP, she served as the Assistant Director of Washington from 1987 to 1997. Thelma received an award for outstanding AARP Assistant Director for her work towards the Universal Health Plan in the late 80s.
Thelma has been a leader and an activist in the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization. A member for 60 years, she has held almost every office, including President, Secretary, Treasurer, Scholarship Chairperson, Chairperson of the MMPN Endowment Fund and presenter of numerous outstanding workshops.
Thelma was one of the first African American nurses to secure employment at Harborview Hospital as a staff nurse working on pediatric, gynecology, and the GU nursing floors. She was later appointed the Supervisor of In-Service Education in 1960 – 1970.
Thelma left Harborview to become an educator at in the Seattle Community College system I 1970. During the Civil Rights movement and a decade later, Thelma actively engaged in the themes of that era and was on the forefront of the need to bring about change in the nursing profession. Matriculating at the University of Washington, she knew firsthand that changes were needed if all patients’ needs were to be met.
The Community College system promised innovative changes in education and reassured the African American community that minority educators and faculty would be hired to bring about equality and social justice, and to have a faculty representative of the of the local population. Thelma was the first African American nursing faculty member to be appointed to teach nursing at the Seattle Community College campus. As a nursing educator and activist, she distinguished herself in her 16 years of employment there by serving on special committees and seeing that all minority voices in the community were heard and honored.
In addition to advocating for the profession, nursing students, patients and others, Thelma’s greatest contribution was the inclusion of and increase in ethnic and racial minority content in the nursing curriculum. This opened a new chapter in nursing direct patient care for minorities. Thelma’s publications also provided an awareness and knowledge of the care of the African American patient. Her most widely known articles include the instructional guide ‘Hair, Scalp and Skin Care of Black Hospitalized Patients’ published in 1978 and ‘The Physical and Psychological Assessment of the Black Patient’ in 1979.
Thelma will be remembered by her students and colleagues for going that extra mile to assist her students who failed the Washington Board of Nursing Examination required to practice nursing. Thelma took it upon herself to tutor these students until they successfully passed the examination. Many of these students were minorities or spoke English as a second language. Her motivation was for them to become effective, efficient registered nurses that would go out and server their patients with love.With her distinguished and commendable service, she was featured in a biographical sketch in the book “African American Nurses in Seattle: The Struggle for Opportunities and Success”. She was also recently honored with the Nurse of the Year – Nurse Legend Award by the March of Dimes given to a retired nurse whose lifetime career has advanced the field of nursing for all generations in the future.