Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) alumni and School officials dedicated a new bench that memorializes the partnership between UVA Hospital, Jackson P. Burley High School, and UVA School of Nursing that began in the 1950s when Black students were not allowed to attend UVA.
About 150 students, including a handful of men, completed the program, which ran until 1966. In 1967, UVA launched its BSN program, following a nationwide trend that moved nursing schools out of hospitals and into university programs. Mavis Claytor (BSN '70, MSN' 85), the School's first Black graduate, transferred from Roanoke College in 1968, the following year.
Many of UVA's LPN alumni, who went on to have lengthy and distinguished nursing careers after graduating, were key to integrating Black nurses into the profession at UVA Hospital, across the region, state, and country. Outstanding graduates include Charles Barbour (LPN ’60), Charlottesville’s first Black mayor; Grace Tinsley (LPN ’58), the first Black woman to serve on the Charlottesville School Board; and Dr. Anita-Rae Smith-Pankey (LPN ’58), who later graduated from Howard University medical school and became a psychiatrist. LPN graduate Evelyn Rodgers Gardner (LPN ’61) established UVA Hospital's first outpatient neurology unit and taught legions of patients and medical students during her more than 40-year nursing career.
For Louella Walker (LPN ’58), the program launched a long career at UVA Hospital. She was one of the first nurses to work there for 50 consecutive years.
Alumna Tori Tucker (BSN ’12, PhD ’22) began the search for what were then called "hidden nurses" during her time as a graduate student, seeking to highlight their stories and experiences through the collection of oral histories as part of her graduate studies. Tucker, whose dissertation focused on the experiences of Black nurses across Virginia, organized an event to welcome back the School of Nursing's first Black graduate, Mrs. Mavis Claytor (MSN ’85, BSN ’70), who told a standing-room-only crowd in 2017 about growing up in 1940s and 1950s Virginia and her pursuit of a BSN at UVA in the late 1960s.
Tucker's final scholarly project also focused on the stories and experiences of the School's LPN graduates, who were formally recognized as alumni and who earned an apology from then-dean Dorrie Fontaine, for mistreatment and marginalization during their schooling at an event celebrating their nursing in 2019.
Associate dean Melissa Gilbert Gomes, IDEA director Ivy Hinton, Bjoring History Center director Dominique Tobbell, and associate professor and department chair Cathy Campbell offered remarks at the ceremony, as did Dee Johnson, daughter of alumna Carrie Walker Shepherd (LPN ’54) and Lorenzo Brown, UVA facilities staffer who is also nephew to Sheperd and Nellie Walker (LPN ’56). One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was when Barbara Edwards of the Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" for the crowd. Facilities coordinator Becky Bowers, Brown, and Campbell together unveiled the bench.
At the LPN alumni memorial bench unveiling May 3, Dean Marianne Baernholdt directly addressed the LPN alumni.
"This School of Nursing is now more than 120 years old," said Baernholdt, "and the university of which is it a part is more than 200 years old. These places not only observed eras of cruelty and discrimination, but actively took part in perpetuating these injustices. Even nursing, with its focus on compassion and care, is guilty of discriminating against its own based on gender, education, and race, reflecting a time when excluding people was acceptable. We knew better then, and we know better now. I am heartily sorry that we did not welcome you into our programs and alumni community with open arms until 2019. "
Added Baernholdt, "Acknowledging our wrongs at ceremonies like these does not mean our work to atone is done and the slate is wiped clean. Let us strive— continuously—to stand up to injustice and reach out to be both great AND good. And let us teach our students to share these same values and expectations."
The new bench is one of a host of such structures that are part of the UVA Memorial Benches Initiative, which seeks to make the built environment at UVA more inclusive of all students from a diversity of backgrounds. Championed by class of 2023 graduate Sanjeev Kumar, who also spoke at the ceremony, the benches have been dedicated across Grounds since the fall of 2022 when the program initiated.