In the pre-antibiotic days when tuberculosis stirred people’s darkest fears, white nurses at New York’s largest 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. This remarkable true story follows the intrepid young women who played a major role in desegregating the New York City hospital system and helped find a cure for tuberculosis.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Books available for purchase from Left Bank Books.
In the pre-antibiotic days when tuberculosis stirred people's darkest fears, killing one in seven, 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 it was said that "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 New York's poorest residents, who languished in wards, waiting to die, or became guinea pigs for experimental surgeries and often deadly drugs. But despite their major role in desegregating the New York City 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.
One of St. Louis Post-Dispatch's 40 New Books for Fall Reading
"Vivid...[An] indelible portrait of an era when this untreatable bane killed one American every 11 minutes...[The nurses'] tenacity in the face of harsh working conditions and pervasive racism is humbling and inspiring...Excellent...[A] book that deserves reading and remembering in the pandemic age." -- The New York Times Book Review
"I've never read anything like The Black Angels, a tale of medical horror and heroism that recalls The Hot Zone as much as it does Hidden Figures. Smilios plunges the reader into the festering tuberculosis wards of 1930s New York, where death was airborne, inevitable--until a few brave nurses changed the lives of millions. This is extraordinary nonfiction." --Jason Fagone, author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies
Maria Smilios learned about the Black Angels while working as a science book editor at Springer Publishing. As a native New Yorker and lover of 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. Maria holds a master of arts in religion and literature from Boston University, where she was a Luce scholar and taught in the religion and writing program. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, and hanging out with her tween daughter and their rescue dog, Buddy. The Black Angels is her first book.