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Prudence Burrell

Nurse Prudence Hathaway Burns Burrell was born on March 23, 1916, in Mounds, Illinois, to Al Wade and Mary Burns. Burrell was raised in Danville, Illinois by Gwendolyn Chambliss, her caretaker. Growing up in Southern Illinois, she attended Douglas Elementary School in Danville. An outstanding Latin student, Burrell graduated from Lovejoy High School in Mound City in 1934. She attended nursing school at Kansas City’s segregated General Hospital No. 2. Burrell passed the state nursing board certification examination in 1939 as a registered nurse and soon enrolled in the University of Minnesota.

With the onset of World War II, Burrell decided to join the United States Army Nurse Corps at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 1942. There, she tended to the famed Buffalo Soldiers and met dancer Fayard Nicholas. Although she attained the rank of first lieutenant of the United States Army Nursing Corps, she was not allowed to treat white troops because of her race. In 1943, Burrell was sent to Station Hospital 268 in Sydney, Australia, then to Brisbane, and eventually to Milne Bay, New Guinea in 1944. There, she taught first-aid techniques to other units, treated gun shot and other wounds, and specialized in the treatment of malaria. Transferred to the Philippine Islands in 1945, Burrell met and married Detroit native, Lieutenant Lowell Burrell. After a simple ceremony consisting of a wedding gown made from a parachute and a fifty-cent ring, she was transferred to Germany during the integration of the United States Armed Forces.

Returning to the United States, Burrell taught at Pacific Lutheran Hospital and earned her B.S. degree in public health from the University of Minnesota in 1951. Eventually, she and her husband moved back to Detroit where she taught mathematics in the Detroit Public Schools and became a health care analyst for the State of Michigan. An active volunteer in Detroit, Burrell delighted in sharing her past with school children. Burrell published her life story in a book called Hathaway in 1997.

Burrell passed away on February 29, 2012 at age 95.

Accession Number

A2007.077

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/7/2007

Last Name

Burrell

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Lovejoy High School

Douglas Elementary School

University of Minnesota

First Name

Prudence

Birth City, State, Country

Mounds

HM ID

BUR17

Favorite Season

None

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Hello, How Are You?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

3/23/1916

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Death Date

2/29/2012

Short Description

Teacher and nurse Prudence Burrell (1916 - 2012 ) attained the rank of first lieutenant of the United States Army Nursing Corps and served during World War II. She also taught mathematics in Detroit Public Schools, and became a health care analyst for the State of Michigan.

Employment

United States Army Nurse Corps

Detroit Public Schools System

Tuskegee Institute

Pacific Lutheran University

State of Michigan

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Prudence Burrell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Prudence Burrell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Prudence Burrell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Prudence Burrell describes her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Prudence Burrell lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Prudence Burrell remembers her maternal uncle

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Prudence Burrell describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Prudence Burrell remembers her maternal grandmother's embalming

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Prudence Burrell describes her likeness to her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Prudence Burrell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Prudence Burrell remembers her love of dancing

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Prudence Burrell describes her schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Prudence Burrell remembers Lovejoy High School in Mound City, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Prudence Burrell recalls her experiences of discrimination in southern Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Prudence Burrell remembers the Chambliss family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Prudence Burrell recalls her accomplishments at Lovejoy High School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Prudence Burrell recalls becoming a nurse at the General Hospital No. 2 in Kansas City, Missouri, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Prudence Burrell recalls becoming a nurse at the General Hospital No. 2 in Kansas City, Missouri, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Prudence Burrell recalls the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Prudence Burrell remembers the start of World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Prudence Burrell recalls her assignment to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Prudence Burrell recalls her assignment to Fort Huachuca in Arizona, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Prudence Burrell remembers her deployment to the South Pacific

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Prudence Burrell describes her experiences of discrimination in Australia

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Prudence Burrell recalls being stationed in New Guinea

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Prudence Burrell recalls her U.S. military service in the Philippines

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Prudence Burrell remembers Eleanor Roosevelt

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Prudence Burrell recalls her meeting with Mary McLeod Bethune

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Prudence Burrell remembers her rescinded promotion

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Prudence Burrell describes her husband

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Prudence Burrell describes her wedding dress

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Prudence Burrell remembers moving to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Prudence Burrell recalls facing discrimination at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Prudence Burrell recalls her career as a healthcare analyst

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Prudence Burrell remembers teaching in the Detroit Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Prudence Burrell talks about her nursing education

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Prudence Burrell describes her work as a healthcare analyst

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Prudence Burrell talks about her book, 'Hathaway'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Prudence Burrell describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Prudence Burrell reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Prudence Burrell talks about her family

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Prudence Burrell describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Prudence Burrell narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Prudence Burrell recalls becoming a nurse at the General Hospital No. 2 in Kansas City, Missouri, pt. 1
Prudence Burrell describes her wedding dress
Transcript
Then that's when I decided that I was going instead of teaching, I was gonna be a nurse. And that's when the guy who had been a principal at the school when I was at--in Lovejoy [Lovejoy High School, Mound City, Illinois], he had been the principal. And he was a doctor and he was head of the hospital for blacks in Kansas City [Missouri]. And he and Gwendolyn Chambliss, you see, the Chambliss family, so therefore they made contact with him and helped me to get ready and sent me there to become a nurse.$$Okay, so this is a black hospital in Kansas City?$$Yes, and we were connected with the whites with a tunnel.$$Okay.$$It was all segregated.$$Okay, now, what was the name of the hospital?$$General Hospital No. 2, Kansas City, Missouri.$$Okay.$$And General Hospital No. 1 [Kansas City, Missouri] was the white.$$Okay, General Hospital No. 2.$$Yes, and that's when that ol' buzzard had a haberdasher [Truman and Jacobson Haberdashery, Kansas City, Missouri] down from our hospital and from the prostituting area of the white women, and he had a haberdasher, that ol' president.$$What was his name?$$The one that died, I mean, you know, what was ol' buzzard's name?$$Oh, a president of the United States?$$Yes.$$From Kansas?$$Yes, from Kansas City, Missouri.$$Oh, Truman.$$Yes.$$Harry Truman [President Harry S. Truman].$$Yes, ol' Harry Truman. I remember when he had a haberdasher and his store there at the red light district. And we used to tell the students when they would come in the mail, "Get in the car, we're gonna show you something." And we'd say, "Now get down, get down." And we'd drive by there, you see, 'cause we had friends with cars. And so we'd say, "Okay, sit up so we can see them knocking on the windows at you," (laughter). And ol' Truman had a haberdasher there, 'cause he was from Independence [Missouri], you know.$$Okay, right, exactly.$$Yes.$$Okay.$$And they would make us vote at five o'clock in the morning. They'd send a big truck thing there and wanted us to get in there and come in there and vote. And I'd go in there and mark everything on the thing.$$You'd vote for everything?$$(Laughter) I'd just mark every square on the thing.$$Now, did you have any idea then that Truman was gonna be important?$$No, no. He was a haberdasher working hard. And we didn't know that we were gonna be--I was gonna be a, a visiting nurse, you see, which is called public health nurse, but we then was called visiting nurses. And when I did my student work then I was sent to university--when I finished they had a job and they sent me up to University of Minnesota [University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota], and that's when I went up there and start working on my degree.$$Okay now, I don't wanna go too fast--$$Yes.$$--but in Kansas City at the hospital, were you the only black student there?$$No, there was all black (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay. All right, because it was in a colored hospital?$$Sure.$$Okay.$$That was all black.$$Okay, so how, how many years did you go to school there?$$Three.$$Three years.$$And then--$And I, I believe that you carry an artifact around with you that commemorates that occasion (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, there is. There it is.$$And now is the time to show it I think.$$You want me to show it to you?$$Yeah, just reach over. And now, this is--it has a special significance. And you carry this around in your purse is what I've been told.$$Um-hm.$$And you show it when you speak, right?$$Um-hm.$$So, let's see this.$$You wanna see it?$$Yes.$$Did you see me take it out of the purse?$$Yeah, he's got it on camera here, we're--. Maybe you can explain to us what this is.$$A Filipino made it.$$Okay.$$One of the American girls with us designed it, and the Filipino made it. Uh-oh, that's all right.$$So what is it? Now, what are we looking at here? This is--well that's--that looks pretty well designed there too, yeah.$$I've got to get it together here. I have to get it together for you. See.$$Yes, okay. And that's the top.$$Isn't that something?$$Okay, all right. I guess I have to say it but this is a wedding gown, right?$$Uh-huh, yes.$$All right, and what is it made out of?$$Out of a parachute--$$Okay.$$--material, see.$$So that's ingenuity I'd say.$$Yeah, can you see it? That's enough, isn't it?$$Yes mam.$$And you see, and I didn't bring my ring that cost fifty cents and it's pure gold with Philippines written on it, my wedding ring.$$So the ring only cost fifty cents in the Philippines?$$Um-hm, yes.$$Pure gold?$$Fifty cents, pure gold. You ought to see it and you'll see that it's still just like it just came out. Well, that was during the war [World War II, WWII] where the people were just getting rid of whatever they could. I have tablecloths and everything down there in the bottom part of my drawer, for serving and everything from the Philippines. Yes indeed, napkins and everything that are just beautiful, and I don't know what I'm gonna do with all that stuff now 'cause I don't really do a lot of entertaining anymore. You finished with this, young man?$$Yes, ma'am.$$And you see how that fits into a purse?$$Folds up pretty nice just like a parachute should.$$Yes, yes (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) That's right.