Hilyer Family Legacy Scholarship honors Jennie Hilyer

Jennie Virginia Hilyer, the first registered nurse at the Florida A&M University hospital
Photo Courtesy of the Meek Eaton Black Archives.

More than one hundred years ago, Jennie Virginia Hilyer dedicated her life to serving others in the FAMU community. Her legacy is emblazoned on the Foote-Hilyer Administrative Center as a historic hospital marker.

In memory of Hilyer, a new scholarship has been established in her honor. The Hilyer Family Legacy Scholarship will provide students with $1,000 annually for incidental expenses.

The scholarship will be awarded in the fall of 2020 to students who are enrolled in nursing, allied health or pharmacy with a GPA of 3.0 or better. Students must be classified as a junior or senior, a native of Florida, and seek financial need.

The scholarship was founded by Barbara Hilyer, who is Jennie Hilyer’s great niece, whom she had never heard of until she began conducting family research after learning that her father passed as white. Her findings led her to the Foote-Hilyer building where Hilyer became the first woman to develop a nursing curriculum.

As an educator herself, Barbara Hilyer is excited in being able to contribute to the FAMU community and continuing the legacy that her great aunt made through education.

“She embodies to me someone who believes in community service and believes in the power of education to change,” she said.

Hilyer said the scholarship is not a lot but it will help students with their financial needs.

“It can be used for whatever expenses they need. I know when students go to school they get money and sometimes that money can only be spent for certain things,” she said. “I hope this will help students overcome some of the obstacles that finances can put in their way.”

Director of development, Audrey L. Simmons Smith, believes the endowment contribution is right in line with keeping the legacy alive in the FAMU School of Nursing.

“Being the first and the oldest school of nursing that has been accredited and knowing the legacy and contributions that her niece made to the state and Florida A&M University hospital is more than impactful enough,” she said.

FAMU nursing student Ashante Evans believes the scholarship would be beneficial to students like herself.

“Nursing schools are expensive and with the help of this $1,000 scholarship it will help reduce the stress of academic expenses.” Murell Dawson, research associate at the Black Archives, is eager for the scholarship to come to fruition.

“I think the co-naming of the building in her honor is just a small portion of her work. I’m excited that they’re going to have a nursing scholarship in her honor. It also fits in with President Robinson’s initiative focusing on STEM education,” she said.

Florida A&M Hospital opened in 1911 and became Florida’s first healthcare facility for African Americans during segregation. The hospital was originally created as a 19-bed sanitarium that provided services for all races living in the Leon County area.

The hospital was named after Jennie Virginia Hilyer, a registered nurse, and Leonard H.B. Foote, M.D. who were notable trailblazers in the African American community. The hospital closed Dec. 11, 1971.

Today, the hospital’s legacy continues through Florida A&M University’s School of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, and School of Allied Health & Health Sciences. The former hospital is currently named as the Foote-Hilyer Administration building as it continues to house the university’s student health center.