North Carolina Nurses Association
The late Capt. Mary Lee Mills improved the quality of life for countless people around the world through her passion for public health nursing. She achieved her professional education from Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in Durham, NC; New York University in New York City; and George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her trailblazing career transported her from a small town in North Carolina to the international stage as a nurse ambassador.
Early in her career, she practiced as a public health nurse and a nurse-midwife. In 1946, she became director of public health for the nursing certificate program at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University). That same year, she was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), where she progressed to captain and served as chief nursing officer from 1946-1952.
Mills received many national and international awards. Liberia vested her as Knight Official of the Liberian Humane Order of the Redemption for numerous public health initiatives. Lebanon bestowed the Order of the Cedars for her role in establishing the first school of nursing.
In 1966, Mills travelled as a consultant to the Secretary of the former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare to Finland, Germany, and Denmark to study their national health systems. She represented the United States at public health conferences in Mexico, Canada, Australia, Italy, and Sweden.
She contributed professionally to the American Nurses Association and the North Carolina Nurses Association. During 20 years with the Office of International Health, Mills received the USPHS Distinguished Service Award and North Carolina’s highest award, Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Her portrait is featured with 33 distinguished African-Americans at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
Mills overcame racial, gender, class, and societal barriers to dramatically improve public health and nursing. A phenomenal nurse, role model, humanitarian, and international nursing leader, she died in 2010 at 98 years old.