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Virginia Allen
2018 Photo by Bill Higgins

Virginia Allen (b. 1931)

Virginia Allen was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. When she was 16, she moved to Staten Island to live with her mother’s sister Edna Sutton-Ballard, who was a registered nurse at Seaview Hospital. Inspired by her Aunt Edna, Allen took a job as a nurse’s aide in the children’s hospital at Seaview. While working there, she studied nursing at the Central School for Practical Nurses at Goldwater Hospital on present-day Roosevelt Island. She worked at Seaview Hospital from 1947 to 1957 and went on to work as a private duty nurse, a surgical nurse and eventually a personnel-training director at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. She then began a career in labor relations with Local 1199 AFL-CIO. She has remained a leader in the community, becoming a president of the local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and the Coalition of Staten Island Women’s Organizations. She is a member of the NAACP, Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority, and the Unitarian Church on Staten Island. She was recognized by the Staten Island Advance, the island’s local newspaper, as a 2005 Advance Woman of Achievement. She is also a supporter of arts and culture organizations including Sandy Ground Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Staten Island Museum.

Stiversa Bethel in wheelchair posing with Seaview staff member
Stiversa Bethel at the opening of the Museum named in her honor
Contact sheet detail 1983 Collection of the Staten Island Museum

Stiversa A. Bethel (1913 - 1983)

Stiversa A. Bethel moved from her native Michigan to New York to attend the Lincoln School for Nurses. She graduated in 1935 and moved to Staten Island. After graduation she began work at Harlem Hospital. She joined the WWII Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943 and went back to school, graduating with a B.S. from Columbia University. She rose to the position of Acting Assistant Director of Nurses at Harlem before transferring to Seaview in 1950. She became Superintendent of Nurses at Seaview Hospital in 1958 and served in that role until 1966. “Her new post carries a tremendous responsibility,” said the announcement of her promotion in the March 1959 issue of the Pittsburgh Courier, “but she has proved equal to the task, as she is an organizational wizard – a characteristic which she charmingly combines with her quiet, pleasant manner and her amiable personality.”  Her service was recognized in 1983 with the opening of the Stiversa Bethel Healthcare Museum at Seaview, which was named in her honor. Bethel died just months after attending the opening ceremony.

View Stiversa Bethel’s Cadet Nurse Corps Registration Card from the National Archives (PDF Download).

Portrait of Salaria Kea in a white nurse's uniform
Salaria Kea
1937 Langston Hughes Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University | JWJ MSS 26

Salaria Kea O'Reilly (1913 - 1990)

Born in 1913 and raised in Akron, Ohio, Salaria Kea O’Reilly was determined to become a nurse. She faced rejection from schools in Ohio because they did not accept Black students, but eventually gained acceptance to Harlem School for Nurses in New York. While there she quickly emerged as a leader of her peers and an activist. She led a protest which ended segregated lunch service at the school. She graduated in 1934, taking a job at Seaview Hospital where she opposed the discriminatory hiring practices at New York City public hospitals which limited the positions open to Black nurses. After a year at Seaview, she returned to Harlem Hospital before leaving New York City for work abroad. She became the only Black nurse to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American military and medical volunteers who served with the republican loyalists against Francisco Franco’s fascist rebels in the Spanish Civil War. While in Spain she met and married her husband John Joseph O’Reilly, an Irish volunteer. She and her husband moved back to the United States and both served in the Second World War. She died in 1990 in Akron.

Listen to an oral history of Salaria Kea O’Reilly from New York University’s Tamiment Library.

Virginia Allen Audio Stop 6: “More Like A Family”

Nurses at Seaview came from training programs across the city including Harlem Hospital, Lincoln Hospital, Goldwater Hospital, and even Smith Infirmary on Staten Island. They traveled from across the country and beyond to study nursing in New York City and work within its system of public hospitals. Many made their homes on Staten Island, building community by joining professional associations, church congregations, and activist groups.

These are just a few of the hundreds of the “Black Angels” who cared for the patients of Seaview Hospital. Click on a nurse’s underlined name to read her obituary or funeral program.

Alice M. Anderson

Viola Anderson

Sarah Tennesse Baker

Edna Sutton-Ballard

Curlene Jennings Bennett

Emma Bugg

Hallie Byrd

Mary DuJon

Kate Gillespie

Phyllis Alfreda Hall

Odessa Harris

Hazel Pedro Herring

Nellie Mae Holmes

Nora Hughes

Marion Jenkins

Dora Tucker Jones

Wilhelmina Lester

Saralina Lott

May Major

Joanne Molina

Irene Noble

Clemmie Philips

Marjorie Tucker Reed

Missouria Meadows-Walker

Leola Washington

Janie Williams

Willie Gus Williams

Virginia Allen Audio Stop 7: “A Nice Sisterhood”