Now these nurses, many still practicing patient care, have received the University’s recognition – and the UVA alumni status – that they deserve.
Display of Nursing History
A display case in the School of Nursing’s McLeod Hall lobby shows most of the original LPN classes, and several related newspaper articles and books. Designed in collaboration with UVA students and led by Elgin Cleckley, a research assistant professor of nursing and assistant professor in the School of Architecture, the exhibit also shows how the narrative is changing as the University brings more of its history to light.
Doctoral nursing candidate Tori Tucker, along with others, has collected oral histories of many of the nurses who were part of this local LPN program and who went on to help desegregate UVA Hospital and other hospitals in the state. Her dissertation, “Moving Lines,” extends to the history of black nurses in Virginia from the 1950s to the 1980s.
In 2016, Tucker began work on the project with Barbra Mann Wall, Saunders Professor of Nursing and director of the Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry; Susan Kools, Madge M. Jones Professor in Nursing, director of global initiatives and associate dean for diversity and inclusion; another alumna, Maya Wright, then diversity and global initiatives program coordinator; and the School of Nursing’s Alumni Association.
“We could not do this without the community’s collaboration and input, and that requires trust,” Tucker said.
The School of Nursing and the nursing history center won a Jefferson Trust grant last spring to enhance the visibility of black nurses in the archives and in public spaces via written documents, photographs, videos, digital format and exhibitions.
In the era after World War II, when segregation persisted in the South, including Virginia, there was a serious nursing shortage. Since only white students could attend UVA Hospital’s nursing program, Roy Carpenter Beazley, then the director of nursing, set up a partnership with Jackson P. Burley High School, the local high school for African Americans, to train LPNs in an 18-month program.
The initial joint program ran from 1951 to ’66, graduating about 150 LPNs, half of whom worked at UVA Hospital, many for decades. These students took additional courses and essentially worked hospital shifts while still in school. Adult learners could also apply to the program.
The Nursing School held a special ceremony in April for many of the LPNs and family members of deceased graduates – some have not been located – during which they were awarded certificates, recognizing their alumni status. They also received apologies for being excluded.
“It’s an important moment in the history of the University of Virginia,” UVA President Jim Ryan said at the time. “We are actively reckoning with the darker parts of our history and trying to atone for our past sins. I am committed to working each day to repair broken relationships and build trust. This will take time and daily effort, but I am committed.”
‘Movers and Shakers’
The Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP recently honored the LPN graduates at its annual Freedom Fund Banquet. In early October, the UVA School of Medicine’s Medical Center Hour featured Tucker and two of the LPN graduates, talking about their experiences.
Many of these nurses “were movers and shakers in the hospital” and in their communities, Tucker said. One man who earned the LPN designation in 1960, Charles Barbour, eventually became Charlottesville’s first black mayor.
The high school seniors who were accepted into the LPN program took classes with teachers Emma Bryson and Lucy Johnson, in addition to their other coursework, and then had nine months of clinical rotations at the hospital.