Born and raised in Waco, Texas, Eddie Bernice Johnson graduated high school at the age of 16 and earned her nursing certificate in 1955 from St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Texas Christian University, followed by a Master of Public Administration degree from Southern Methodist University in 1976.
She began her career as the first female African American Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital, holding that position for 16 years. In 1972, Congresswoman Johnson became the first nurse ever to be elected to the State House in Texas after a landslide victory, even though she had been considered “the underdog.”
Congresswoman Johnson soon became the first woman in Texas history to lead a major Texas House committee: the Labor Committee. She left the State House in 1977 when she was appointed by President Carter to serve as the regional director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She was the first African American woman to hold the position.
In 1986 she was elected as a Texas state senator, the first woman and the first African American from Dallas to do so. She wrote legislation to regulate diagnostic radiology centers, require drug testing in hospitals, improve access to health care for AIDS patients, prohibit discrimination against AIDS victims, and prohibit hospital kickbacks to physicians.
Johnson has worked against racism during her career, but has also dealt with discrimination in the legislature. She once told the Chicago Tribune, “Being a woman and being black is perhaps a double handicap. When you see who’s in the important huddles, who’s making the important decisions, it’s men.”
She also says she fears the legacy that discrimination might leave for today’s youth, explaining, “I am frightened to see young people who believe that a racist power structure is responsible for every negative thing that happens to them,” she told the New York Times. “After a point, it doesn’t matter whether these perceptions are true or false; it’s the perceptions that matter.”
Congresswoman Johnson is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus, co-chair of the Congressional Lupus Caucus, and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus of Bosnia. In addition, she is the founder of the Diversity & Innovation Caucus. Her own acclaimed initiative, A World of Women for World Peace, garnered worldwide recognition.
In her more than 40 years in office, she’s earned a reputation for working with both Republican and Democratic parties to get things accomplished. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the first nurse elected to US Congress, is recognized as an effective legislator, having authored and co-authored at least 177 bills that have been passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by presidents.
For her impactful and inspirational accomplishments, U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson will be one of four nurses receiving the 2021 NBNA Lifetime Achievement Award during the 49th Annual National Black Nurses Association Institute and Conference August 4-8, 2021.