Sophronia Reacie Williams (1929–)

Sophronia Reacie Williams worked more than forty years as a nurse and nurse educator, becoming one of the first African-American nurses in hospitals and universities in Missouri, Ohio, and Colorado.

Sophronia Williams was born on June 19, 1929, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the second of six children of Leon Williams and Theessa Woods Williams. Her father was a minister at the Church of God in Christ congregation in Little Rock, as well as a school cafeteria cook. Williams attended segregated John E. Bush Elementary School in Little Rock and graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock in 1947. As a teenager, she worked at St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock as a hospital aide. Williams attended Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock from 1947 to 1948 on a scholarship. She then attended Homer G. Phillips School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri; this was the first teaching hospital west of the Mississippi River to serve African Americans. (No nursing programs in Arkansas would accept a Black student.) She converted to Catholicism in the late 1950s at St. Engelbert Church in St. Louis.

Williams graduated in 1952 as a registered nurse and had a diploma in nursing. She worked at Homer G. Phillips for one year. In March 1953, she began working at Jefferson Barracks, Veterans Affairs Hospital in Missouri in the psychiatric unit. The hospital was integrated in September, and she became one of the first two Black nurses to work there.

In the mid-1950s, she transferred to the psychiatric unit at Veterans Affairs Hospital in St. Louis as one of the first ten Black nurses to work there. She became a staff nurse, head nurse, and then supervisor.

Williams attended Washington University in St. Louis in 1957, receiving a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1959 and then a master’s degree in nursing in 1961. That summer, Williams was a faculty member at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, leading clinical trials in mental health for students at the state hospital in Anna, Illinois.

From 1961 to 1964, Williams was a faculty member at Malcolm Bliss Psychiatric Hospital in St. Louis. From January 1964 to 1969, Williams taught psychiatric nursing through Case Western Reserve University at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio, where she was one of two Black nurses. From there, in the fall semester of 1969, Williams began work as the first Black faculty member—an associate professor teaching psych/mental health nursing—of the College of Nursing at the University of Colorado in Denver.

Williams returned to Arkansas in 1978. In October of that year, she began working for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center as the founding coordinator to develop a nursing continuing education program at the university hospital. In 1979, she became an associate professor at the College of Nursing at UAMS, specializing in mental health. She co-authored the third and subsequent editions of Mental Health–Psychiatric Nursing: A Holistic Life-Cycle Approach. Williams developed the Nursing Education Success Program in the early 1990s for minority students.

Williams retired as an associate professor emeritus in 1994. She was active in retirement, working with local professional women’s associations and the Arkansas Nursing Association, as well as serving as a charter member of the Little Rock Black Nurses Association. Williams was active with the Dunbar Alumni Association, serving as treasurer for eight years. With the association, she helped develop the Women of Dunbar Mentoring Program in 2000 designed to prepare students for the upper grades after elementary school; she remained involved for twenty years. In addition, she was active in her parish, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock.

Williams never married. She lived on her own until early 2020, when she moved into a Little Rock senior living facility. Glaucoma caused her to lose most of her eyesight.

For additional information:
Hanson, Aprille. “Williams Paved the Way for Black Nurses in Arkansas.” Arkansas Catholic, January 9, 2021, p. 6. Online at https://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/6810/Williams-paved-the-way-for-Black-nurses-in-Arkansas (accessed July 30, 2021).

Aprille Hanson Spivey
Conway, Arkansas

Last Updated: 07/30/2021

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