Black Angels: The untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis
Join author Maria Smilios for a fascinating discussion about her new book, The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis!
- Uncover the forgotten stories of Black nurses who took part in the most “grandiose experiment ever undertaken in the history of medicine” at NYC’s Sea View Hospital in the 20th century
- Hear how these intrepid nurses challenged institutional racism and actively participated in the movement to desegregate the entire New York City hospital system
- Learn about the conditions that made New Yorkers especially susceptible to the rampant tuberculosis disease
About the event:
Nearly a century before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we know it, a devastating tuberculosis epidemic was ravaging
hospitals across the country. In those dark, pre-antibiotic days, the disease claimed the lives of 1 in 7; in the United States
alone, it killed over 5.6 million people in the first half of the twentieth century. Nowhere was TB more rampant than in New
York City, where it spread like wildfire through the tenements, decimating the city’s poorest residents and communities of
color. The city’s hospital system was already overwhelmed when, in 1929, the white nurses at Staten Island’s Sea View
Hospital began quitting en masse. Pushed to the brink of a major labor crisis and fearing a public health catastrophe, city
health officials made a call for Black female nurses seeking to work on the front lines, promising them good pay, education, housing, and employment free from the constraints of Jim Crow.
That decision would define history, as Maria Smilios chronicles in THE BLACK ANGELS: The Untold Story of the Nurses
Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). Like the bestselling books Hidden Figures and The Warmth of Other Suns, this luminous true account tells the incredible, never-before-told story of the intrepid women (dubbed the Black Angels by their patients) who fled the segregated South to work at Sea View, an 1,800 municipal tuberculosis sanatorium, woefully understaffed and nicknamed the “pest house”—a place where “no one left alive.” Though the grim reality they met upon arriving was far from what the city had promised, the women kept Sea View running for over two decades, saving countless lives while also challenging institutional racism and actively participating in the movement to desegregate the entire New York City hospital system.
And then, in 1952, the Angels participated in the most “grandiose experiment ever undertaken in the history of medicine”: the
cure for tuberculosis, run by Sea View’s own Dr. Edward Robitzek. Its success eventually shut down the hospital, leaving the
legacies of these women to languish for more than seventy years. Almost entirely erased from history, for decades, the Black
Angels’ presence during this galvanizing breakthrough survived only in the memories of friends, family, and the tight-knit
African American community of Staten Island. . . until now.
Join author Maria Smilios as she sheds light on these untold stories in a live, virtual talk with Untapped New York’s Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers!
About Maria Smilios
A New York City native, Maria Smilios has a Master of Arts in religion and literature from Boston University, where she was a Luce Scholar and a Presidential Scholar. Smilios spent five years at Springer Science & Business Media as development editor in the biomedical sciences and has written for The Guardian, American Nurse, The Forward, Narratively, The Rumpus, and DAME Magazine.
- Author Headshot by Parker Pfister
- Photograph Courtesy of NYCHHC Sea View Archives
- Final two photos Courtesy of James Williams
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