Ada C. Veney, a retired Baltimore City Health Department superintendent who was a pioneering African-American nurse, died Sunday at Sinai Hospital of complications from a stroke. The Ashburton resident was 99.
Born Ada Christiana Vessells in Richmond, Va., she moved to Baltimore as a child and lived on East 23rd Street. She was a 1927 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and worked years later as an instructor in its home nursing courses.
"From early childhood, her dream was to be helpful to those who needed her most," said daughter Charlene Oliver of Baltimore. "After high school, she entered the only professional program for black nurses in Baltimore. It was at Provident Hospital."
Mrs. Veney trained at the old Provident Hospital on Division Street in West Baltimore, where she received her nursing education alongside her sister, Mabel Hawkins, who is now deceased. Mrs. Veney graduated in a class of six in 1929.
In a 1999 Sun article, she recalled that medical and nursing students could work their way through school, serving on the wards by day and taking classes at night. Some received further training at Harlem Hospital in New York City.
"Those were the days when 'penicillin' - well, the word wasn't invented," Mrs. Veney told a reporter. "I suppose you could call it primitive. But it was clean. We took care of the patients extremely well."
She later became a Provident nursing supervisor and educational director, and joined the city Health Department in 1937 as a school nurse.
"Everyone was looking for a better way of life back then, for something a little bit better than scrubbing floors," she said.
She took additional nursing courses at Columbia University and earned a bachelor's degree at what is now Morgan State University in 1950. She also earned a master's degree from New York University.
During World War II, she was selected to take Red Cross training courses at Tuskegee Institute.
She retired in 1973 as a senior public health supervisor in the city's health department. During the 1950s, she helped in planning a more active program of health education and counseling for junior and senior high school students.
An Evening Sun article recounted her career and said she and a co-worker "shared the responsibility for assignments and work of 52 public health nurses assigned to the public and parochial schools of the city."
Mrs. Veney was one of the first African-Americans to work as a nurse at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"She told me she had been assigned to the tubercular ward at Maryland," said Thomas L. Saunders, a friend who organizes African-American heritage tours. "She would talk about the evils of segregation and how she was told to use another staircase because of her race."
Mr. Saunders recalled Mrs. Veney as "quite a lady with old-school mannerisms." He also said, "She was a brilliant woman."
Mrs. Veney was active at Camp Concern, a summer camp for city children at the old Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Cecil County. She was also a Johns Hopkins Hospital volunteer.
In 1946, she helped found what became the Provident Hospital Helene Fuld School of Nursing Alumni Association. She was later honored by the group at its ceremonies.
She was a member of the For-Win-Ash Garden Club and the mental Health Society's Golden Rule Guild. She was also active in the Alpha Wives of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
In 1998, she was named a Living Legend during a ceremony at the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at Trinity Baptist Church, 1601 Druid Hill Ave., where she was a member and a past president of the Women's Guild and Flower Guild. She also worked with a church-sponsored blood pressure monitoring committee.
Survivors include another daughter, Mary Johnson of Baltimore; and four grandchildren. Her husband of 35 years, Frank R. Veney, manager of the old Lafayette Court public housing complex, died in 1968.