Geneva Bryan (1894-1981)

Geneva Bryan was born February 23, 1894, in the District of Columbia. Her parents, Ada Taylor (born in Richmond, Virginia), and Louis Bryan (born in Raleigh, North Carolina), tried to provide a good education for all seven of their children. Geneva attended the distinguished M Street High School in the District. We are not certain how or when she became a Seventh-day Adventist but she was a member of the People’s Church pastored by L. C. Sheafe and probably joined in one of his tent efforts.

 Newspaper articles show that she represented the People’s Church in 1909 as a member of the Young People’s Literary Society and in 1916 as a delegate to the Eighth Annual Session of the District of Columbia Conference. During 1914-1916 she successfully canvassed in Washington, D. C and in 1920 she spent a short time in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as a self-supporting missionary.  We lose sight of her until 1926. We find her then, for the next six years, as a teacher at Harlem Academy, New York, with Elder Moran. She added nursing to her education and connected with the Tuberculosis Association in Washington D.C. as a public health nurse. Later she was superintendent of nurses at Meharry Medical College for two years and then connected with the board of health in the city of New Orleans where she was working when she accepted the call to the General Conference.

In 1942, when Elder G. E. Peters was elected to be the Secretary of the Colored Department he insisted that the name be changed to the Negro Department and that a nurse be selected to be his assistant to help with the medical needs of the various schools and to bring health to the forefront among the Negroes of the Church. A committee was set up to find a qualified person and Miss Bryant was selected.

She immediately went about promoting health education. In his report to the General Conference Peters gives this account of some of her work. “By no means inconsequential is the action of the Spring Council of 1942 providing that a qualified nurse be employed to connect with the General Conference Colored Department to promote medical-education interests among the colored churches. Miss Geneva Bryan, R.N., was secured. She began her health inspections of our colored church schools in the fall of 1942. Her work has embraced the visitation and inspection of all the colored schools in each union conference. The inspection is done annually by the nurse, and remedial defects as observed are reported to the parents through the regular conference letter, which is filled in by the nurse. The present status of health of each child as it is observed, is explained to the parent; and when deemed necessary personal visits are made to the homes of the children and their parents given needed advice.

“Health talks are given to the school children, also to church groups, of our various churches. As a result, many defects have been corrected, such as defective teeth, poor eyesight, large and embedded tonsils, defective hearing, poor posture, malnutrition, athlete's foot, heart trouble; and proper immunizations against the various communicable diseases have been produced. Both children and parents seem to become more health conscious through constant contact with the nurse during her annual visit. Many health departments of various cities have been visited by Miss Bryan and the services of public health nurses made available to many of our schools, periodically, just as the public schools are served. Thus our immunization program (which assumed major importance during our world's crisis) has been promoted greatly.

“Miss Bryan, a national Red Cross nurse, having had much experience in the field of public health, has found no difficulty in securing the services and co-operation of Red Cross instructors and nurses, which has proved very helpful to our people in some instances. She has been invited to Red Cross conferences, at which she obtained information and help which have benefited her in the field of health, and which when passed on, have proved quite valuable to our own people. She also teaches the Red Cross home nursing course and the General Conference home nursing course when time permits. Within the past year she has taught three such classes, visited regional and camp meetings, and given talks on health and Christian education, stressing in her talks the influence of the home life from all angles on the lives of our children.”

Ms. Bryan also served as a consulting editor of Message Magazine. At that time, young black nurses were not accepted into any of our Adventist sanitarium or hospital nursing programs so she also served on several committees to help prepare black professionals for the medical fields. Her schedule was very busy with traveling and presentations and four years into her job, acting on the advice of her physician, Miss Bryan requested a leave of absence of one year. After that year she felt that her health still would not allow her to be involved in the strenuous travel and she retired fully from the position. She participated in a large city-wide cooking class conducted at Washington First Church for Adventists and non-Adventists in 1962. We lose sight of her after that. Her death certificate says that she passed away September, 1981, in Washington, D. C. at age 87.

-DeWitt Williams