Esther McCready (1931 – 2020) was a civil rights pioneer, helping to pave the way for increased educational opportunities for African Americans in Maryland and nationwide.
In 1949 she was denied admission to the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) because of her race. She, and her lawyers, who included future US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, sued for admission, and she became UMSON’s first Black student in 1950 and its first Black graduate in 1953. McCready’s case helped lay the groundwork for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954, in which the justices found that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
Once enrolled at UMSON, McCready faced hostility from fellow students and professors alike, and supervisors tried to sabotage her work. She had to enter the nursing school from a separate “for coloreds only” entrance and was not allowed to live with or eat with the other nursing students. She overcame all of that and much more to open a previously closed door for African Americans, two more of whom were admitted to UMSON the next year.
After graduating, McCready worked as a public health nurse in Baltimore before moving to New York City. There she worked in a post-surgery recovery unit at Cornell Medical Center and in the emergency department at Harlem Hospital.
While in New York, McCready received her master’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music, and she went on to sing in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess. She also earned a degree in elementary education from Hunter College and taught in the New York public school system for more than 15 years.
McCready returned to her hometown of Baltimore and served on UMSON’s Board of Visitors from 1996 to 2004 and on the Alumni Council, and as a docent in its Living History Museum, Maryland’s only museum dedicated to nursing, from 2002 to 2012. In 2014, on the occasion of UMSON’s 125th anniversary, McCready was among the initial group of people inducted as UMSON Visionary Pioneers, a recognition of esteemed alumni who have made a significant impact on and contribution to the field of nursing based on their leadership, innovation or entrepreneurship. In 2015, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.