How Black Nurses Were Recruited to Staten Island to Fight a Deadly Disease


“It was a huge place.” It was a big place.” The highly contagious “white plague” killed 5.6 millions people in the United States during the first half 20th century The city was booming with economic activity and a thriving post-World War II, but there was a shortage She is one of the hundreds recruited to fill in the ranks.”

At Sea View Hospital, the nursing In the early years of the hospital, most nurses were white. But in 1929, many began to leave for jobs that would Sea View offered them a career, education and a living salary to attract Black nurses from the Jim Crow South. At the time, Sea View was one of only four of the more than two-dozen municipal hospitals in New York that did not discriminate against Black nurses; the rest either refused to hire them or had quotas limiting the number of Black nurses they employed.

Many of the women working at Sea View, including Ms. Allen, lived in the nurses’ residence, a gracious, Spanish Mission-inflected dormitory with a red terra-cotta-tiled roof topped by gabled attic dormers. Some of the nurses at Sea View helped refine the use of Isoniazid, the first direct treatment for tuber They were responsible for transporting patients to their bronchoscopies and collecting their sputum. They also Some of the old buildings have been renovated and put to new use. The nurses’ residence is now Park Lane at Sea View, a private retirement community. She said that her return was a happy accident. She was invited to the ribbon cutting for the renovated facility and, after taking a look around, decided to move in. She said, “I feel fortunate to be living in the same apartment where I began my career.” This was not too long The buildings that are now in ruins are still beautiful and I think there’s still a little bit of history about Allen, who worked as a social worker and represented nurses for a union in the 1960s, and then returned to As she goes through her day, however, the past seems to creep into the present. “I am fortunate to be still here. It’s just like the health care workers who worked during Covid.” It’s like the health workers who worked at Covid. The pavilions of Mr. Almirall, with their polygonal sunrooms and open-air porches “A consistent effort has been made to express hospital purpose,” he wrote in The Modern Hospital in 1914, “by simplicity, and by light, air, abundant veranda space and cheerfulness.”

The grand facade of the nurses’ dormitory evoked, as Ms. Smilios wrote in “The Black Angels,” “places that barred Black women from entering, except through the back door — plantation estates and stately mansions.”

But to Ms. Allen in the late 1940s, it was home. The “rumpus room” was a place of camaraderie with mahogany bookcases and a Like the other residents, Ms. Allen had a tiny room with a door of quarter-sawn oak, a bed, a chest, a chair and a small sink.

A favorite spot was the “rumpus room,” a place of camaraderie with mahogany bookcases and a fireplace decorated with Delft tiles.

“It was a lot of fun because we had a grand piano there,” Ms. Allen recalled, “and many of the nurses played, so we’d sing and talk and play cards.”

The rumpus room was also where nurses “would gather together to decide how they might move forward in terms of equality,” said Ms. Smilios, whose book describes a notable civil rights struggle at the dormitory.

In 1937, when the residence reopened after an expansion, nurses discovered signs in the new dining hall bearing the words “Reserved for Whites.” They went straight to The New York Amsterdam News, an influential

Black newspaper, which ran a story under the headline “Nurses Stage Walkout for Discrimination.”

With racial tensions still simmering two years after a riot in Harlem, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia hopped a ferry for Staten Island. After a riot in Harlem, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia hopped a ferry to State Allen’s memories are, however, overwhelmingly positive. “It was the innocent taking care of the innocent.” “It was the innocent taking care of the innocent.”

Working with her two supervising nurses, one African American and one German-Irish, felt like being part of a team, she said.

Nonetheless, she added, white parents would occasionally “show racial discrimination between their children and the workers,” wanting her to “drop what you were doing and care for their child” — as if “their child was more important than the child you were taking care of.”

Ms. Allen did not succumb. She said that her personality was such that she would respectfully tell them I’d be there for them once I finished what The golden tiles were adorned with images of white nurses, red crosses, and garlands of seashells. Even though New York and New Jersey were home to terra-cotta firms that could produce fine pieces, such as the The images were made using the “sectile”, a technique that was introduced at the 1900 World’s Fair, in The curvilinear shape of the tiles was shaped to follow the contours of caregivers and children in the images The effort was backed by over 30 preservation groups, but it failed. Three mural sections have been removed by city workers, and now are displayed in the nursing care facility that replaced the four pavilions in 1973. The department will invest $20 million to renovate the building into classroom training space for employees. In 2016, the city said it would invite proposals for a wellness community that could include restoration of the four remaining adult pavilions. A spokeswoman from the Economic Development Corporation of the City of New York said the hospital is still looking for “alignment” between stakeholders to determine the best way forward. Meanwhile, the rotting wards of the hospital are being swallowed by the forest. Allen turned 92 on Aug. 15, and to Debbie-Ann Paige, a co-president of the Staten Island Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, the best way to celebrate the nonagenarian caregiver and her colleagues is not to mythologize them as angels but rather to see them as human beings who overcame daunting challenges.

“Staten Island has had a difficult time in terms of race from its inception, and not only were these women and women of color, they were frightening to the surrounding community because they were perceived as people of color bringing the contagion with them,” Ms. Paige said.

Many commuted into work and endured people moving away from their on public transport, she said. “For me, the idea that these women endured and persisted is much more worthy of honor than this idea of an Angel who gives you a smooch and you are cured,” Ms. Paige added.