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The Gainsboro History Project

About the Nurses

Essential to the work of the physicians at Burrell Memorial Hospital were the vast number of nurses who were employed and educated there throughout its operation. Burrell’s first superintendent of nurses was Daisy E. Schley, a Norfolk native who became an active member of the Gainsboro community.

A group of nurses in their white dress uniforms and hats, with Dr. Roberts standing next to them in a suit.
Burrell Nursing Staff with Dr. James H. Roberts. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries

Nursing Training School at Burrell

From 1921 to 1933, Burrell Memorial Hospital boasted the Nursing Training School at Burrell, a program accredited to offer graduates an RN. Until 1934 Burrell’s nursing school was the only such program in Virginia that trained Black nurses. Over the course of its operation, the school educated over forty students.

Nursing students spent three years studying a variety of topics essential to their field. They learned both in the classroom and through practical experience, spending part of their time treating patients in different wards of the hospital. Due to the low number of birthing and pediatric patients in Burrell, students studied these subjects at St. Philip Hospital in Richmond to complete the requirements for certification.

The Nursing Training School closed in 1933, due to financial problems brought on by the Great Depression. In 1958 Burrell began offering accreditation for practical nurses through its School of Practical Nursing, a partnership with the Roanoke City School System that continued until the hospital’s closure in 1978.

See Also


Pollitt, P. A. (2016). African American and Cherokee Nurses in Appalachia: A History, 1900–1965. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Reunion ‘87 (n.d.) [Pamphlet]. The Burrell Auxiliary and L.P.N. Alumni. Gainsboro Branch Library Vertical Files, Roanoke, VA, United States.

Roanoke’s Mrs. Daisy Schley Dies Suddenly. (1956, March 31). New Journal and Guide.

Shareef, R. (1996). The Roanoke Valley’s African American heritage: A Pictorial History. The Donning Company Publishers.