St. Agnes (H-121)

Hospital. First nursing school in N.C. for African Americans, 1896-1961. Founded by Sarah Hunter. Building four blocks N.

Location: Edenton Street at Tarboro Street in Raleigh
County: Wake
Original Date Cast: 2012

Saint Augustine’s College was chartered in 1867 and began its work on January 1, 1868. Episcopal Bishop Thomas Atkinson pressed for the creation of St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute “for the purpose of educating teachers for the colored people of the state of North Carolina and elsewhere in the United States.”

Sarah Hunter, wife of St. Augustine’s fourth principal, saw the need for a hospital for Raleigh’s black community and realized that the opportunity was there to provide training for black medical professionals. At the general convention of Episcopal Church in 1895, she raised enough money to convert a house on campus into a rudimentary hospital, typical of school infirmaries in the nineteenth century.

St. Agnes Hospital opened on October 18, 1896. The nursing school, offering the first professional training for black nurses in North Carolina, graduated its first students two years later. Much of the training was on-the-job, but there were also some lectures. Eventually 14 other African American nursing schools opened during the segregationist "Jim Crow" era in North Carolina. Many of these were founded and run by St. Agnes graduates, including Durham's Lincoln Hospital and Wilmington's Community Hospital.

A larger, more modern hospital was completed in 1909. Hunter again spearheaded the fundraising for St. Agnes. It was built by St. Augustine’s masonry students from stone quarried on campus. The shell of that building is part of the Saint Augustine's College Campus Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The African American community in Raleigh depended on the hospital for healthcare. St. Agnes is said to have charged just enough for its services to let the patients keep their dignity but not so much as to keep them from seeking help. During a 1922 capital campaign, individuals and civic organizations from both the black and white communities, as well as the Episcopal Church, gave generously so that the hospital could continue to care for the underprivileged. In 1937 St. Agnes was accredited by the American Medical Association.

Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion boxer, died at St. Agnes Hospital on June 10, 1946, after a car accident in Franklin County. It was the closest hospital that would take him as a patient. St. Agnes Hospital closed in the wake of the civil rights movement. From 1896 to 1961 an estimated 687 nursing students were trained there.

Frederica Harris Thomsett and Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Deeper Joy: Lay Women and Vocation in the Twentieth Century Episcopal Church (2005)
Vanessa Northington Gamble, Making a Place for Ourselves: The Black Hospital Movement, 1920-1945 (1995)
ASU history of nursing website:
Journal of National Medical Association (September 1961), available online at:…

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