June 7th, 2007 | Following the Leaders
Retired Maryland State Senator Rosalie Silber Abrams tells nurses that, collectively, we hold enormous power in the political arena, but because most nurses feel their voices aren’t being heard, they choose not to become involved in politics. Rosalie, a nurse, social reformer, and advocate for the nursing profession knows better. As the first woman in Maryland to chair the Maryland Democratic Party and to hold the position of Senate Majority Leader, Rosalie is a trailblazer, proving that nurses hold the power to create social change.
Rosalie started her political career in 1967, during a time when politics were strictly a good-old-boy operation and when a woman’s place was in the home, not in the State House. She said that she knew that her male colleagues accepted her as a peer when one of them told her, “You know, when you get up to speak, we forget you are a woman.” Rosalie said that her nursing career helped prepare her for public service. “When I was a nurse, I saw a lot of things that weren’t right. Women, the mentally ill, and the elderly had few rights, and I wanted to correct some problems that I saw.”
Rosalie energetically represented nursing in Annapolis, Maryland for seventeen years, and during her prolific political career, she oversaw the passage of nearly 300 bills, many of which directly impacted Maryland’s healthcare system and the nursing profession. As the author of legislation creating Maryland’s Health Services Cost Review Commission, Rosalie created a national model for healthcare reform and cost containment. The Commission sets hospital rates within the state and has been credited for keeping Maryland’s hospital fees among the lowest in the nation. The Commission also created the all payer system for hospitals, which ensures that no one in Maryland can be refused hospital treatment. Some of her many other accomplishments include paving the way for third party reimbursement for nurse practitioners and reforming Maryland’s Mental Health Code. Rosalie was a member of the House of Delegates from 1967-1970 where she served most notably on the Joint Committee on Medicaid Legislation; Health and Welfare Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. She became a member of the State Senate from 1970-1984, serving as a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee from 1971-1982, and Chair of the Finance Committee from 1983-1984. Rosalie was the first woman to hold the position of Senate Majority Leader and Chair the Maryland Democratic Party. She was also the first woman to Chair the Maryland’s Senate Finance Committee. After leaving the State Senate, Rosalie continued her public service by serving as the Director of the Maryland Office on Aging until her retirement in 1996. Rosalie remains active in many civic organizations, promoting the welfare of others, and professional organizations including the Maryland Nurses Association.
One of Rosalie’s most valuable contributions to nursing involved her work in defining our profession. When she was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, she started working to revise the Maryland Nurse Practice Act, which today, serves as a model for other states. She also worked to elevate nursing as a profession and advocated for increased wages and improved working conditions for nurses. During her life, she has received numerous awards and commendations for her work. For her work in the field of nursing, Rosalie was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. The honorary stature in conferred on those who demonstrate a special commitment to the ideals and concerns of the nursing profession. The Maryland Nurses Association also honored her by creating the Rosalie Silber Abrams Award, which is given to an individual who makes significant contributions on behalf of nursing in the legislative arena.
Rosalie is a great nursing leader because she helped nursing find its voice in the political arena by teaching nurses how to lobby and fight for our ideals. She leads by example and shows nurses that we truly have the power to impact our patients’ lives.
Photograph by Joan Roth from Jewish Women’s Archive.