GH Research Seminar Series - A Medical Mystery: The Hidden Story Behind the Cure for Tuberculosis

1:00 pm on Monday, October 23, 2023
2:00 pm on Monday, October 23, 2023
Crosstown 305 and Online
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Global Health Admins
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Maria Smilios learned about the Black Angels while working as a science book editor at Springer publishing. A native New Yorker who loves history, medicine, and women’s narratives, she became determined to tell their story. In addition to interviewing historians, archivists, and medical professionals, she spent years immersed in the lives and stories of those close to these extraordinary women. Smilios holds a Masters of Arts from Boston University in Religion & Literature. New York City, 1929. A sanatorium, a deadly disease, and a dire nurse shortage. In the dark pre-antibiotic days when tuberculosis killed one in seven people, white nurses at Sea View, New York’s largest municipal hospital, began quitting en masse. Desperate to avert a public health crisis, city officials summoned Black southern nurses, luring them with promises of good pay, a career, and an escape from the strictures of Jim Crow. But after arriving, they found themselves on an isolated hilltop in the remote borough of Staten Island, yet again confronting racism and consigned to a woefully understaffed sanatorium, dubbed “the pest house,” where word was “no one left alive.” Spanning the Great Depression and moving through World War II and beyond, this remarkable true story follows the intrepid young women known by their patients as the “Black Angels.” For twenty years, they risked their lives working under appalling conditions while caring for 1800 of New York’s poorest residents who languished in wards, waiting to die or become “guinea pigs” for experimental surgeries and often deadly, drugs. But despite their major role in desegregating the NYC hospital system—and their vital work in helping to find the cure for tuberculosis at Sea View—these nurses were completely erased from history. The Black Angels recovers the voices of these extraordinary women and puts them at the center of this riveting story, celebrating their legacy and spirit of survival.