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Thelma Gibson

Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson was born on December 17, 1926 in Coconut Grove, Florida. She was the sixth of fourteen children born to Sweetlon Counts Albury Anderson and Thomas Theodore Anderson. At that time, Coconut Grove was divided into “Colored Town” and “White Town”. Gibson lived in “Colored Town,” and her parents’ house on Charles Street had no electricity or running water. Gibson graduated in February of 1944 from George Washington Carver High School.

Gibson attended Saint Agnes School of Nursing at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. In August of 1947, she became a registered nurse specializing in operating techniques. Gibson worked in the “Colored Wards” of Jackson Memorial Hospital. Before continuing her education under the tutelage of Dr. Mary Carnegie at Florida A&M University and between 1954 and 1955, Gibson attended Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University. In 1956, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied cancer and communicable diseases. Gibson attended the University of Miami from 1957 to 1958 and earned her B.S. degree in nursing education in 1959, after one year of study at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York.

Gibson has worked in a variety of health organizations including the E.J. Hall Clinic in Miami, Florida; the Gallinger Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.; the Dade County Health Department; and the Riverside Hospital for Teenaged Drug Addicts. She also served as Nursing Supervisor and Part-time Social Worker for Mount Sinai Hospital from 1967 until 1980. In August, 1997, Gibson was appointed Miami’s interim City Commissioner. In 1984, she founded the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Dade County.

Gibson has received many honors and awards, including a membership as Founder of the Jewish Home for the Aged, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major for Justice Award, the Jewish Home and Hospital Women’s Auxiliary Sacred Heart Award, and the Jackson Memorial Hospital Image Committee Award, among others. She is also President of the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund, Inc.; a Trustee at the University of Miami; a Life Member of the NAACP; and she serves on the board for the Coconut Grove Cares Mental Health Association. She sponsored the Gibson Health Initiative, which provides testing and assistance for HIV/AIDS. In the fall of 2000, she published her autobiography, Forbearance, Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson, the Life of a Coconut Grove Native. She also helped form the Theodore and Thelma School of the Performing Arts in Coconut Grove, named after herself and her late husband, the late Reverend Canon Theodore Roosevelt Gibson.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Middle Name



George Washington Carver High School

St. Augustine's University

Coconut Grove Elementary School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Coconut Grove



Favorite Season

Fall, Winter



Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

How About That.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Cocunut Grove



Favorite Food

Peas (Pigeon), Rice, Fish, Salad

Death Date


Short Description

City commissioner and nurse Thelma Gibson (1926 - 2011 ) worked in the city government of Miami, Florida.

Favorite Color

Orange, Purple

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Thelma Gibson's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Thelma Gibson lists her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Thelma Gibson describes her mother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Thelma Gibson describes how her family prioritized education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Thelma Gibson describes her maternal grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Thelma Gibson lists her siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Thelma Gibson describes her father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Thelma Gibson describes her family's community in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Thelma Gibson describes her parents' marriage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Thelma Gibson recalls her relationship with her siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Thelma Gibson describes her schools in Coconut Grove, Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Thelma Gibson describes community institutions in Coconut Grove, Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Thelma Gibson recalls growing up during the Great Depression</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Thelma Gibson recalls joining the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Thelma Gibson describes the start of her nursing career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Thelma Gibson recalls moving to Richmond Heights, Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Thelma Gibson describes going back to school for nursing</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Thelma Gibson recalls her career after her marriage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Thelma Gibson talks about volunteering after her husband's death</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Thelma Gibson describes her community development work in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Thelma Gibson describes her history with the University of Miami</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Thelma Gibson describes charity projects that bear her name</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Thelma Gibson talks about awards she has won in her community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Thelma Gibson describes her hopes for the future</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Thelma Gibson reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Thelma Gibson narrates her photographs</a>







Thelma Gibson recalls growing up during the Great Depression
Thelma Gibson recalls joining the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II
We just left off, describing life in Coconut Grove [Miami, Florida]. Now you were born right before the Depression [Great Depression] and you came of age right before and during World War II [WWII]. What are some of things that you remember about those two pivotal times?$$I could remember during the '30s [1930s], early '30s [1930s], during the Depression, that people had to go to welfare. And Mr. Jackson, we had a man by the name of Melvin Jackson, who was a social worker for this area. And he ran cleaners right on the corner of Douglas [Road]--on the corner of Hibiscus [Street] and Grand [Avenue]. And his wife did the sewing and repairs in there, and he did the welfare. So, those people who had to go for flour and rice and that sort of thing, he sort of decided who. And he was the person who would decide who would get the things that government was giving out. And I could remember us going to get rice and flour, and then there was a meat market. And we had a man name Thomas Horse [ph.] and Mr. Horse would always save the bones from the meat after he cut it up. And said, "This was for Ms. Anderson [Sweetlon Albury Anderson], come here child, get these bones to take home to your mama to make some soup." And so people looked out for you. Everybody knew who needed what, and they sort of helped. And so I could remember wearing clothes that were made out of flour sacks. They would get the gingham and make little skirts and stuff for you out of the material that came with the flour sacks. So it was a time that I remember that people went for. And we were a part of that group who had to get some of the things from the Jacksons, the sugar and the rice and the flour. And mama knew how to make bread and papa [Thomas Anderson] always made johnny cake. So we survived through the whole area of--and never, never had a day that we were hungry. People always looked out for you. And my grandparents would, my aunts and my uncles would look out. I had aunts who had favorite children, my aunt, one aunt had let my brother Percy [Percy Anderson] and she looked out for him and did almost everything for him. I had an aunt who loved my brother Billy [William Anderson] and she did everything for Billy. And bought his clothes, and I had an aunt who would bring us school clothes and the things that we needed. We were able to get, because we had all these relatives all around. And while we were--there were a lot of us, mama was the only one, and I guess from her family, who had all these children, papa was the only one from his family. My papa had one sister, his oldest sister had one girl. His second sister had three children, two boys and a girl. And his third sister had a boy and a girl. And they were the only family members I had one cousin living from my paternal--papa's side of the family. Whereas, mama had, he had eleven of us, and between all of them they just had six.$$Right.$$So it was like everybody having--my Uncle John [ph.] who had no children, would always bring bread, and oh we had my cinnamon buns and stuff that he'd bring from the bakery. Holsum Bakery [South Miami, Florida] over town where he worked. And it always nice to see him coming, 'cause you knew he was coming with all these goodies and stuff. And then mama's family always looked out for us, and so we were well taken care. I had, I worked for Ms. Sawyer [ph.], on Saturdays I scrubbed her kitchen and got twenty-five cents. And that twenty-five cents paid for my ten cents to go to the movies, and five cents for popcorn and then you went to the Dew Drop Inn [Miami, Florida] and got a five cents ice cream cone. So they were the days that you had little but everything cost little, so we managed to survive. And then I had a nickel for Sunday school for the next day. So, and we went to Sunday school, went to church in the morning at eleven o'clock. Went home, had dinner, you were back at Sunday school at three o'clock. You went to Young People's Service League at six o'clock and then back at church at seven thirty. So it was your day, your Sundays were taken up with church. Now when my late husband [Theodore Roosevelt Gibson] came to Christ Church [Christ Episcopal Church, Miami, Florida], and he wasn't my husband at the time, when he came here. But he started saying that church was more than just a Sunday thing. So he started having Young People's Service League on Mondays. So the kids would go, would not have to go to Sunday school on Sunday and then Young People's Service League and then back to church. They were able to go to Sunday school and then the next day at six o'clock on Monday, you went to Young People's Service League. And so things started being spread out over the whole week rather than everything being on Sundays. But by then I was away in nursing school, when he came to Christ Church.$That was the Depression [Great Depression], what about, what effect did World War II [WWII] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) When the war, when I, I never shall forget, I could hear the news that December 7th of 1941, when they said the World War, that Pearl Harbor [Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii] had struck and the war was on. And things began to move around here, and people started going to the [U.S.] Army. But it wasn't until 1944 that I really felt what it all meant, because my brother and one of my classmates, Thomas [Thomas E. Anderson] and my classmate Earl Counts [ph.] were called, and they had to go. And they were just boys of 19 and 20, 18 and 19, and it began to hit home that this was real, this thing called war. And, fortunately though, because of the war, they started the [U.S.] Cadet Nurse Corps, and I was able to get my nursing, I went into the Cadet Nurse Corps. When I went, not knowing anything about it, when I got to St. Agnes [St. Agnes Hospital, Raleigh, North Carolina], mama [Sweetlon Albury Anderson] and papa [Thomas Anderson] had borrowed three hundred dollars for me to get on the train to go Raleigh [North Carolina] to go to nursing school.$$Three hundred dollars.$$So, they borrowed three hundred dollars. They bought my train ticket, and they pinned the rest of the money in my bosom, so that I could pay my tuition and everything. When I got to Raleigh, there was a nurse there that was from Coconut Grove [Miami, Florida] who was the assistant director nurse, Myrtle Albury, she was Myrtle Roberts at the time. And she said, "You know, they have the Cadet Nurse Corps and we could sign you up to be a Cadet Nurse, you won't have to pay any money. And they give fifteen dollars a month for the first two years. And then when you get to be a senior you get thirty dollars a month." Well that was a lot of money in those days. And so there was no phone for me to call mama to tell her this, so I wrote her and told her that I was going to be joining the Nurse Cadet Corps. Well, she wrote me back and told me, no I wasn't. Because she didn't want me in the Army, my brother was in the Army. She didn't want me in the Army, she did not understand that this was not the Army. The Nurse Cadet Corps, all you want to do was promise that you would work at least two years after you finished your nursing school. You would work for two years and that would pay back Uncle Sam. So, and then when I told her I was going to send her some money back, it made a difference. And I wrote and said, "Mama, I join this, they give you a uniform, you get an overcoat and all this stuff, wool stuff. And you don't have to pay any money, so I'm going to send you two hundred dollars back." So Myrtle got the money order for me to send her the money back, and I joined the Cadet Corps. And then the first time I came home in this uniform--and you'll see it in my book of pictures, of me in my cadet uniform--they were all so proud, even though she thought I was still in the Army because it was a uniform. And I said, "No, all I gotta do is, to be sure that I work two years after I finish." So the Army Nurse Cadet Corps came about in I guess in 1942 and it ended in '48 [1948] or '49 [1949]. But it was an opportunity, there was a shortage of nursing at that time, and because of the war, the government put up the money to train. And at that time it was called nurses' training, now it's nurses' education. But then we called it training, because we went to school but then we actually trained in the hospital where you took care of patients from the time you got there, pretty much.