Gladys B. Dillard
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Gladys B. Dillard

Public Health Nurse

Detroit Health Department


Arthur W Boddie

Mrs. Gladys Dillard was born in Detroit on August 6, 1921. Her parents, Albert A. and Lucy Patton Somerville, migrated to Detroit from Greensboro, Alabama after her father's return from his World War I tour of duty in Europe. She graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1939 and enrolled in Wayne University.

Because she was interested in obtaining a nursing degree, she had to transfer to the Freedmen's Hospital nursing program at Howard University in 1941. She received her nursing diploma in 1944 and returned to Detroit. She was then granted the Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Wayne University and became their first African American nursing graduate.

Mrs. Dillard began her career with the Detroit Health Department as a public health nurse in 1944. She then left the department in 1948 and returned in 1963 after raising her children. She became a supervisor of field nurses in 1965 and an administrator of several clinics beginning in 1969. She also did private duty nursing at Harper, Redford Receiving, and Henry Ford Hospitals.

Mrs. Dillard earned her master's degree in public health from the University of Michigan in 1972. At that point her nursing career changed to that of consultant for the Health Department. Mrs. Dillard retired from public health nursing in 1983.

She is a member of Chi Eta Phi, an African American nursing sorority, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Detroit District Nurses Association.

In addition, Mrs. Dillard's community involvement has recently included her association with the WestSiders, a group which developed and published a community family album of memories entitled, Remembering Detroit's Old Westside, 1920-1950 (1997).

Tape recorded interview;
Detroit, MI
17 September  1998
audio clip

Discusses segregation in nursing education and being the first African American nursing graduate from Wayne State University

…I went right from high school to [Wayne University]—see, I finished in [19]39 in January. In February I was at Wayne State—well, it was Wayne University then. And then I stayed at Wayne University until 1941. [I] did two years to get what you call your liberal arts courses. The [first] two years is your basic [course], and then [for] your next two years you go in[to] your major. But see, mine was two years to get the basics and then going off to Freedmen’s, which qualified as my major, and that was nursing. So, that’s why at the end of the four years—well, it’s five years because see, the hospital diploma programs were all three year programs—at the end of five years I had enough credits to qualify for a B.S. degree…because see, when I talked with the Dean of the College of Nursing, this was what was explained to me, at that time.

The white students could go to Wayne, and then they could go to the various hospitals to get their experiences—their surgical and their medical and all those experiences…Dean Knapp was the dean at that time when I went in to talk with her about going into the College of Nursing and this was what was explained to me. I would have to select a diploma school—one of the black diploma schools—to get my clinical experiences…

And with the academic in the first two years and the clinical experiences, three years in a hospital, [that] would qualify me for a degree…I decided I wanted to go into public health because one of the clinical experiences was the three-month experience with the Visiting Nurse Association in public health nursing. And that’s what I decided I wanted to do. I’d like to go into public health. So then I came back and applied with the Detroit Health Department for a job as a public health nurse…Well, at that time [1945], I was the only black nurse to get a degree—the first one to get a degree in [nursing]…From Wayne [University].


William G. Anderson
Reginald P. Ayala
Arthur W Boddie
Wilma Brakefield-Caldwell
Henry C. Bryant Jr.
Alice Burton
Waldo L. Cain
James W. Collins
Claude and Vivienne Cooper
Gladys B. Dillard
George Gaines Jr.
Leon Gant
Herman J. Glass Sr.
Della Goodwin
Joseph B. Harris
Frank P. Iacobell
Horace L. Jefferson
Sidney B. Jenkins
Arthur Johnson
Rachel B. Keith
William E. Lawson
Josephine Love
Hayward Maben Jr.
Berna C. Mason
Suesetta T. McCree
Dorothy Mottley
David C. Northcross Jr.
Ophelia B. Northcross
Marjorie Peebles-Meyers
Frank P. Raiford III
Garther Roberson Jr.
S. L. Roberson
Elsie Smith
Fannie L. Starks
Lionel F. Swan
Natalia M. Tanner
Oretta Mae Todd
I. Clara Webb
Charles F. Whitten
Charles H. Wright
Watson Young


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Copyright , Kellogg African American Health Care Project, 2000.
Text and images may not be used without the permission of the Kellogg African American Health Care Project.