Retro Riley: Early nurses paved the way for diversity

Riley 100 |

02/15/2024

Mary Ash Award

The historical record suggests that Black nurses began serving on staff at Riley Hospital for Children beginning in the 1960s and ’70s. Mary Ash, RN, remembers the many opportunities she pursued over her 45-year nursing career at Riley Hospital:I came to Riley Hospital in May of 1978. I had an associate degree from IU Northwest and came to Indianapolis to get my BSN degree. I started on the infant unit, where I helped develop the night shift supervisor role. In 1997, I was clinical educator for the age-based units. After having my second child at the age of 42, I went to a weekend plan back on the infant unit and was weekend coordinator. After changing to disease-based units, I went to 7W. I was on that unit until 10 years ago and came to the ROC in 2014.” Inspired by Ash’s example on the job, Craig Sylvester, Ash’s colleague in the ROC’s Outpatient Surgery Center, recently created the “Mary Ash Award” to recognize unit staff who go above and beyond in their work.

Other Black nurses and administrative assistants in that time period included: Gloria Dowe, who received the Margaret Martin Nursing Award in 1993 (RN, 1969, Toddler Unit “for many years”—“a great nurse and team player,” remembers Jeanne Zander, RN); Monica Felder (RN, 1985, NICU); Carolyn Flippin (RN, 1972, NICU); Marie Holder (RN, 1987, Toddler Unit, then Radiology); Evelyn Kimble (RN, 1972); Portia Tharpe (LPN, 1962); Damita Hill Williams (RN, 1984, NICU); Angel Smith (RN, infant unit, then toddler unit); Kim Knight (RN, Infant South); and Gwendolyn Carter (RN, 1989, main OR to ROC). Leontinne Houston and Bertha Crenshaw (Toddler Unit) were Black unit secretaries (“strong icons of helping the cause,” recalls Karen Jennings Radar, Parent Care Unit Director).

Several Black faculty members at the Indiana University School of Nursing helped lay the foundation for the diverse makeup of nursing staff today at Riley Hospital for Children. The first Black student to graduate from the IU School of Nursing was Ann Mitchem-Davis in 1953. She went on to serve as a school nurse for the Marion County Department of Health and Hospitals and became the assistant dean of Howard University’s College of Nursing.

Beverly Ross (RN, 1960) was on the Indiana University School of Nursing pediatric nursing faculty. Upon her retirement in 1999 after 31 years of service to IU School of Nursing, Ross established the Beverly Ross Scholarship for Riley nurses.

Dr. Lauranne Brown Sams was the first Black faculty member at the IU School of Nursing, serving from 1958-1973. She was a leader among nursing faculty during her years at IU and went on to become dean and professor of nursing at Tuskegee University's School of Nursing. Under her leadership, a group of 18 nurses met in December 1971 and voted to establish the National Black Nurses Association. She served as the association’s first president from 1973 until 1977.

Another Black leader from the IU School of Nursing who followed in the legacy and leadership of Sams was Dr. Rose Mays. After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Evansville, she obtained her master’s degree and pediatric nurse practitioner certificate from Indiana University School of Nursing in 1974. Her doctorate in nursing science is from the University of Texas at Austin. From 1973 until her retirement in 2010, she specialized in teaching pediatric nursing. For eight years, she served as the IU School of Nursing’s associate dean for community and international affairs and implemented a program of research and community service focused on health promotion and disease prevention for vulnerable adolescents. In 2003, she was elected to the American Academy of Nursing for her achievements in establishing community programs that served homeless youth and teen mothers, and in 2012, she was elected to the IU Foundation Board of Directors.

Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics Patricia A. Treadwell, M.D., recalls that both Dr. Mays and Dr. Lillian Stokes taught student nurses at Riley Hospital. Dr. Stokes, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing from 1972 until her retirement in 2008, was a national leader in the development of culturally competent care. She served as director of the School of Nursing’s Diversity and Enrichment Program.

--Compiled by the Riley Hospital Historic Preservation Committee