Skip to content

90-Year-Old Retired Nurse Rejected From School Due To Race Honored by Hospital 71 Years Later

90-Year-Old Retired Nurse Rejected From School Due To Race Honored by Hospital 71 Years Later

It’s a full circle moment!

A 90-year-old retired nurse who was rejected from school because of her race was honored by the hospital 71 years later, ABC News reports. 

Betty Brown was in the beginning of her career when she applied to nursing school at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Illinois. Unfortunately, the hospital rejected her application because she was Black, Brown taking the moment in stride and forging ahead. She went on to make history as the first Black nursing student and first Black nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Joliet, Illinois, eventually returning to work at Advocate Sherman, never holding a grudge.

“I would always say to the young women: don’t give up. Keep your eye on the goal and don’t give up and don’t become bitter,” Brown recalled. 

Seven decades later, Advocate Sherman has acknowledged their wrongdoing, honoring Brown as an honorary chief nursing officer. Advocate President Sheri De Shazo spoke during the ceremony, acknowledging how Brown’s story has impacted her as a Black woman. 

“That refusal to let that moment that I know was deeply painful -- She didn’t let it become a barrier and that’s what inspires me,” De Shazo told reporters. 

Brown called the moment emotional. “It was very emotional. And it was emotional for the speaker…because of somebody like me, it made her what she is today,” Brown said, referring to De Shazo. 

Now 90-years-old, Brown has lived a long and full life and is no stranger to honors. A volunteer with the local Elgin YWCA, one of the first places that offered a safe space for Brown and other Black children, Brown receives an annual honor from the organization for her work. Every year, the YWCA presents the Betty Brown Racial Justice Award to local heroes committed to social justice.

“While other organizations were still segregated, we have always welcomed everyone into our programs. Over the years, almost her entire 90 years, she’s been a supporter of our programs and our mission. She’s come back to teach classes to our children here, like etiquette classes,” explained Alana Freedman, a YWCA Elgin administrator. 

Brown says she’ll never forget the generosity of the YWCA, an organization she’s committed to for life. 

“When I was growing up, there weren’t many places that Black young women could go and be accepted and the YWCA was a place that we could go and be accepted…I will always contribute to them,” said Brown.

Ms. Brown, we honor you and thank you for paving the way. 

Photo Courtesy of WLS