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Trailblazing Dr. Lawrence Brown fought for Provident Hospital accreditation

Dr. Annie Lawrence-Brown celebrates her 100th birthday

Surrounded by some of her students and others she inspired to enter the nursing profession over the past 42 years, Dr. Annie Lawrence-Brown celebrated her 100th birthday on Tuesday, February 13, at her Chatham home where she shared memories of her historic 42-year nursing career. 

Born on a farm in Madisonville, Virginia, into a family of 11, Lawrence-Brown said, “I was the last one. I’m the baby.” 

When asked her secret to longevity, she quipped, “breathe in, breathe out. When I was 90, I never thought I would live to be 100,” she said as her guests burst into laughter. “God gave me the strength to do that.” 

Smiling as she glanced at birthday guests, Lawrence-Brown explained why she became a nurse. 

Sitting in her favorite chair in front of a huge gold-colored balloon marking her 100th birthday, with smaller blue and gold balloons representing the colors of her Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority by the fireplace, Lawrence-Brown shared the historic and passionate history of her nursing career. 

A graduate of Freedman’s Hospital Training School in Washington, D.C., and Howard University, Lawrence-Brown said she became a nurse because when she was in high school, “the nurse would come to visit the students. She was so kind and nice. She would let me take her bag and walk her to her car. I wanted to work directly with people.” 

Dr. Annie Lawrence-Brown

Lawrence-Brown went on to work at Provident Hospital, founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African American, where she made major changes. 

As the Dean of Provident Hospital and Training School, Lawrence-Brown was passionate about giving her nursing students quality training. “That was my choice, but I didn’t skip the patients. I always made sure they received good care.” 

She also provided money from her paycheck for students who needed personal items such as feminine care products. “I loved the students. I did all I could for them,” she told the Chicago Crusader. 

When she became aware that Provident Hospital, the first in the nation to be run by Blacks, was listed last on a national list of 71 hospitals and was not accredited, Lawrence-Brown said, “I couldn’t stand that,” and was the first one to work hard to have Provident Hospital and Training School accredited. 

She expressed sadness over the slaying of eight white students by Richard Speck, who broke into the dormitory where South Chicago Community Hospital students lived and killed them on July 13, 1966. 

To protect white students at her school, Lawrence-Brown said she first would drop them off at 95th Street but later took them home, “getting out of the car so that the whites would see I am a Black woman and not a Black man bringing them home, because they were a part of me. I was an advisor to them on both state and national levels. They were working for a student nursing association of Illinois.” She feared for their safety. 

A trailblazer, Lawrence-Brown first married a judge who passed, and 19 years later married a Chicago policeman; she remained focused on her nursing career. She served as Director of Nursing Education at Provident Hospital School of Nursing, as a nursing education coordinator for the State of Illinois, and Nursing Chair for Governors State University, from which she retired. 

She was the first Black president of the Illinois Nurses Association and an advisory committee member for several Chicago-area nursing programs, both public and private. 

Chicago and Gary Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell has on occasion shared her admiration for the professionals trained at Provident Hospital. 

Acknowledging Dr. Anne Lawrence-Brown as being instrumental in Provident Hospital’s nursing success, Leavell recalled, “As a young woman, many years ago, I traveled home on the bus from 43rd Street and South Parkway (now King Drive). 

The bus would stop at 51st Street where groups of student nurses from Provident Hospital would board the bus, dressed in starched white nurse’s uniforms with matching white caps that stood high on their heads like snowy crowns in the sun. I was impressed by the regal beauty of these Black nurses. Little did I know these women, under the instruction of leaders like Dr. Anne Lawrence-Brown, were to become leaders themselves in the nursing profession.” 

Instrumental in developing the careers of her students, Lawrence-Brown has been an inspiration for many nurses. 

Among those she encouraged is Dr. Berlean Burris, who grew up on a farm, one of 13 children, in Mississippi, and who is the wife of former U.S. Senator Roland Burris. She said Lawrence-Brown inspired her career. She graduated from the Provident Hospital School of Nursing. 

Following in Lawrence-Brown’s footsteps, Burris never forgot the teachings of her mentor and passed on those academic standards to her own students at Chicago State University, where she was the Dean. 

Referring to Lawrence-Brown, Burris said, “She made sure that we looked the part and acted the part” of being a nurse. 

“She didn’t play with us. We had to be professional. I did the same thing to my students as she did to us, and they all made 100 on their State Boards. She was the picture of perfection,” said Burris, pointing to a picture of her mentor hanging over the fireplace. 

Dr. Beverly Harper, who began her career at Provident and went on to Chicago State University as a faculty member, said they had great teachers. “We were inspired by Dr. Burris, Dr. Lawrence, and all of us….We had a wonderful faculty who were very knowledgeable.” 

Ruth Slaughter, who graduated from the same school of nursing as Lawrence-Brown said, “We were then on the Cook County Bar Association Bench and Bar for spouses, and we raised money for Black law students.” She is also the first Black nurse to become director of Chicago’s Health Department. 

Dr. Sandra Webb-Booker is a retired colonel from the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She taught at Chicago State University under the leadership of Drs. Burris and Harper. 

“We worked at ensuring that we provided a quality education in all of the hospitals we were assigned to teach. We had a pass rate of 100 percent. 

“We were instructors first, and once they graduated, we became colleagues, and we had a professional relationship with them.” She was the first president of the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association. 

Melba Bradley said Provident Hospital gave them an extremely good background for nursing. “We could go to any hospital or clinic and stand up to any nurse and do a good job, if not better. We attributed that to Dr. Lawrence. I got a quality education from Provident. We had great instructors.” 

Dr. Lawrence-Brown gave a parting bit of advice saying, “be yourself and do the best you can do for yourself and others.” 

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