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Gleena Senora Gilbert
November 11,1931-August 31, 2023
Nurse-midwife; Queen’s Nurse


Nurse-midwife Gleena Gilbert was among the first generation of Black Bermudian women to train in the UK and the third Bermudian to become a Queen’s Nurse. She worked in the UK and also for a time in Bermuda, but spent most of her career in New York.

Gilbert, who hailed from Somerset, was the daughter of Marjorie (Burrows)  and Samuel Thomas Gilbert. Her mother died when she was six-days-old, leaving behind Gilbert and her two-year-old brother, Thomas Minton. Her father subsequently married Marjorie Tankard, who was the mother of her younger sister, Curtalene Wilson.

Gilbert, who attended West End Primary and Sandys Secondary School, always wanted to be a nurse. She and her cousin Clare Harford Perry got their start at the Children’s Convalescent Hospital in Dockyard, founded in 1953 by Edna Watson and her Committee of 25 and which was in existence for five years.

Cousins

In August 1954, the cousins left Bermuda for Manor Hospital Nursing School in Staffordshire in the West Midlands. Ann Dyson, matron of the Children’s Hospital, told the Bermuda Recorder the hospital had recommended them to the nursing school. They each qualified as a State Registered Nurse (SRN) in 1957 and later as a State Certified Midwife (SCM).

They then took a rigorous 18-month course in district nursing run by The Queen’s Institute of District Nursing (now The Queen’s Nursing Institute).  Perry became Bermuda’s second Queen’s Nurse in 1961, and Gilbert earned the qualification in 1962. Lorraine Dyer Bizek became Bermuda’s first Queen’s Nurse in 1945.

When the two women left Bermuda for the UK, the ban on the hiring of Black nurses was still in effect, both at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) and the district nursing service. Black leaders kept up the pressure on Government to end the policy, which KEMH finally did in 1958.

Progress

Up until the early 1950s, Black Bermudian women trained primarily at US nursing schools. They began heading to the UK in the years following the Second World War. The Bermuda Recorder regularly ran articles about their accomplishments. 

In 1962, the Recorder reported that Gilbert had become Bermuda’s third Queen’s Nurse and had joined the staff of KEMH after working at Hammersmith Hospital in London.

Gilbert told the Recorder she was “extremely glad” to be back in Bermuda, although she would miss London’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.  She spoke of the many changes and improvements that had taken place at KEMH and of the “nice, friendly atmosphere” that prevailed there.

Recruited

But in 1964, she left Bermuda to work at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. At the time, British-trained nurses were being heavily recruited by US hospitals.

In 2021, when interviewed for the 2022 film Health-Care HeroinesBlack Bermudian Nurses and the Struggle for Equality, Gilbert’s sister, Curtalene Wilson, said she left Bermuda because there was “a lot of discrimination” at KEMH.

“She wasn’t going to get ahead,” Wilson said. Gilbert worked at Columbia  Presbyterian Hospital until her retirement as assistant head nurse.  

In 2014, in declining health, Gilbert, who never married, returned to Bermuda and was cared for at Serenity Gardens Nursing Home until her death at age 91. Both siblings predeceased her, Curtalene in 2022. 

Clare Perry, who also moved to New York and worked at Roosevelt Hospital, died in 1993.  Both women, who were members of the Worldwide Church of God, were returned to Bermuda for interment at St. James Church cemetery, Somerset.

 
Editor’s Note: For Black Bermudian graduates of US nursing schools, the Queen’s Nurse requirement had long struck a sour note. The Bermuda Welfare Society, which established the district nursing service in 1925, required its nurses to be Queen’s Nurses. Future labour leader Dr. E.F. Gordon, an Edinburgh-trained physician, said the UK qualification was not necessary and it automatically disqualified US-trained Black Bermudian registered nurses.   

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November 11, 1931— Is born in Somerset

1953-1954—Works as a trainee nurse at the Children’s Convalescent Hospital, Dockyard

August 1954—Enters Manor Hospital Nursing School

1957—Qualifies as a State Registered Nurse

1958—Qualifies as a State Certified Midwife

1958-1962—Trains for Queen’s Nurse qualification, then works at Hammersmith Hospital, London

1962—Receives Queen’s Nurse qualification, returns home and joins staff of KEMH

1964—Is hired by Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where she  works until her retirement

2014—In declining health, returns to Bermuda and spends her final years at Serenity Gardens Nursing Home

August 31, 2023—Dies at age 91

 

 

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TGleena Gilbert and Clare Harford Perry, second and
third from left, as student nurses in the UK in 1955 .

Photo: Courtesy Lisa Clark Burns

 


 

 

Further Reading

“One of Four Nursing Students Going to train in UK”, Bermuda Recorder, August 18, 1954

“Four Bermudians Graduate in Nursing in England”, Bermuda Recorder, December 7, 1957

“Bermuda Gets Another Queen’s Nurse”—Bermuda Recorder, May 26, 1962

Gleena Gilbert obit, The Royal Gazette, September 20, 2023


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