Acclaimed Author of The Black Angels to Speak at GW School of Nursing Graduation

May 2, 2024

Maria Smilios portrait with Black Angels book cover

The GW School of Nursing is proud to announce that Maria Smilios, author of The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s graduation celebration being held at GW’s Smith Center on Thursday, May 16. Also joining the celebration will be Virginia Allen, one of three surviving members of a 300-nurse group who later became known as “Black Angels.”

About Maria Smilios

A native of New York City, Ms. Smilios holds a Master of Arts from Boston University in Religion & Literature where she was a Henry Luce Scholar and a Presidential Scholar. She also taught Essay and Research writing in the university’s writing program.

In 2007, she left Boston and moved back to New York City to teach at an all-girls high school. There she created and ran an intensive summer writing program for teens. While working as a development editor in the biomedical sciences editing books in lung diseases, pediatric and breast cancer, neurology, and ocular diseases, she read a line in a book that led her to discover the story of the Black Angels.

Through writing the book, she has become involved in advocating for health equity, especially affordable and accessible TB drugs in TB heavy countries by working with and supporting organizations such as EndTB and Partners in Health. In the past, she has written for The Guardian, American Nurse, Narratively, The Rumpus, Dame Magazine, The Forward, Lit Hub, Writer's Digest among others.

This spring she will begin teaching as an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University School of Public Health. The Black Angels is Ms. Smilios’ first book and she will be signing copies at the School of Nursing graduation reception at the University Student Center. Visit for more information or to order the book.

About Virginia Allen

Growing up, Virginia Allen admired her maternal aunt Edna Sutton Ballard and loved to see her nurse’s uniform. It was starched white with shiny white shoes, Allen recalled. Ballard spoke of her patients and coworkers at Staten Island’s Sea View Hospital on family visits to Detroit in the 1930s and 1940s. Those stories planted the seeds for Allen who later became a nurse. Both women went on to make history as part of a group of 300 nurses who later became known as “Black Angels.”

Allen, who has been a volunteer at the Schomburg Center since 2010, looks back at her 10 years at Sea View and shares a glimpse of her life at the hospital. The nurses “gave so much of themselves to the cure of tuberculosis,” Virginia said. “Some of them, actually, risking their lives.” Virginia enrolled in nursing school at Central School for Practical Nurses in 1954 through a work-study program and graduated with honors in 1956. She left Seaview in 1957 and returned to school to take classes and pursue a career in labor relations. She advocated for members in unions Local 144, the Nursing Homes, and 1199 Healthcare workers of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Allen returned to patient care in the 1980s, working at Staten Island University Hospital until 1995. Then she moved into a private doctor’s OB/GYN practice and retired in 2005.

In 2010, Allen joined the Schomburg Center as a volunteer. Virginia is a founding member and has been active with the Staten Island section of the National Council of Negro Women since 1968. She also serves on the boards of organizations such as Cultural Crossroads in Fort Greene, the Staten Island Ballet, Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Inc., Art Lab at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island OutLOUD, and the College of Staten Island Auxiliary Board providing grants for education and vocation. She’s also a member of Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority, Inc, Lambda Chapter S.I. NY, and the Literary Society of New York.

Virginia has received accolades from a diverse body of stakeholders including Councilwoman Debbie Rose, the New York State Senate and Assembly, the Borough President, the Stapleton UAME and St. Philips Baptist Church. She has been honored with the Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority Inc.'s Distinguished Service Key and the Staten Island Advance's Woman of Achievement Award, Class of 2005. She was honored with the William A. Morris Humanitarian Award, and the Hope Community Staten Island Service Award. In 2021 Virginia received an Honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of Staten Island. Also in 2021 she received the New York State Nurses Association Recognition for Black History Month, as well as Health Equity and Inclusion recognition from Staten Island Women Who March. Virginia worked on many projects with the late Jane Lyons, the former Executive Director of Sea View Hospital and Home. She was also involved with saving the neglected and rare Delft Terra Cotta Murals which are now on display in the lobby of the Robitzek Building. She received recognition as a Black Angel at the unveiling of the Sea View Murals.

Virginia has two amazing grandsons, a beautiful great-granddaughter and 2 phenomenal great grandsons. Virginia’s very accomplished daughter succumbed to heart disease in 2001. "One of my main beliefs is that this world is all we have, and it is our duty to care for one another with love." Virginia Allen