“The Black Angels - The Untold Story of The Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis”

On April 1, we had the pleasure of hosting Maria Smilios, author of the book titled "The Black Angels: The Untold Story of The Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis." This book sheds light on the contributions of Black nurses at Sea View Hospital in Staten Island, New York, from the early 1900s through World War II until the 1960s. Despite facing discrimination, these nurses provided compassionate care to thousands of people with tuberculosis (TB) over decades and participated in drug trials that ultimately led to the successful treatment and cure of the disease. Smilios, who has a background as a development editor in biomedical sciences covering lung diseases, pediatric and breast cancer, neurology, and ocular diseases, was inspired to tell the story of these dedicated nurses. Her book is a testament to their efforts, meticulously researched and enriched with interviews with historians, medical professionals, and the nurses and their families.

During her talk at Weill Cornell Medicine, Smilios also highlighted the work of Dr. Walsh McDermott, who was appointed head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell in 1942. Dr. McDermott conducted clinical research that led to the discovery of isoniazid for the treatment of TB. He received the Lasker Award for this work alongside Dr. Edward Robitzek from Sea View Hospital. Dr. Robitzek credited the Black nurses at Sea View for the high quality of TB care and record keeping necessary for the successful TB trials. Please find the biography of Dr. McDermott from this link: https://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/....

Dr. Jennifer Furin of Harvard Medical School has expressed her admiration for Smilios’s work in a book review published in the Lancet. Dr. Furin commends the author for bringing attention to this overlooked chapter of TB treatment history and the connection with social inequity, stating that Smilios “expertly ties the struggles of the patients and the nurses to the broader societal forces of racism, gender bias, discrimination, and contempt for the sick-poor that continue to influence global approaches to TB. This book is essential reading not only for those in the TB field but also for anyone seeking to understand the factors driving current health disparities.” (Furin, 2023)

TB control, especially in metropolitan areas like New York City, presents significant challenges. The city has made substantial progress in managing outbreaks in recent years. This talk provided a valuable opportunity to learn about the immense efforts of past generations, upon which our current successes are built.

You can find the details of the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/722957/the-black-angels-by-maria-smilios/

Weill Cornell Medicine Center for Global Health 402 East 67th Street, 2nd Floor New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-8140 Fax: (646) 962-0285