Myrah Keating Smiths name is familiar to St. Johnians who know of the health care clinic named for her in honor of her devotion and care of the community of St. John. Keating-Smith was recently honored again by being inducted into the Virgin Islands Womens Hall of Fame on Saturday, December 3, along with 13 other St. Thomas women.
Keating-Smiths life began on St. Thomas on June 1, 1908. She was joined moments later by her twin sister Andromeada. In 1922, at the age of 14, Keating-Smith endured a lengthy trip to begin her college education. She traveled for eight days by ship to New York and three days by train to Alabama, arriving at the Tuskegee Institute, where she studied dress making and home crafts.
Keating-Smith then transferred to John Albion Andrew Memorial Hospital in Alabama, where she was the first and only student from the Virgin Islands to study surgical nursing. After graduating with a degree as a registered nurse and midwife with an emphasis in surgical nursing, Keating-Smith returned home in 1931 to begin her nursing career, which would span more than 40 years.
She worked as a registered nurse and midwife for a little while on St. Thomas, but for most of her life, worked here on St. John, said her eldest daughter, Andromeada Childs in a previous interview with St. John Tradewinds.
Keating-Smith was the only health provider on St. John for about two decades, and was described as a nursing pioneer on the island.
Despite acting as the sole public nurse, school nurse, registered nurse and midwife on the island for many years, Keating-Smith still found time to raise her three daughters Andromeada, Emily and Myrah.
My mother was a very kind person, very dedicated to her job and the community, said Childs. She knew she was needed and as a result she was very dedicated, she did everything willingly but never complained.
In 1934, Keating-Smith delivered the first of over 500 babies on St. John.
She remembered delivering close to 500 babies on St. John, and she was God mother to most of them, said Childs.
It is said that up until the day she passed away she could remember the birthdays of all of the babies she delivered.
I remember my mother as someone who was always on duty she did not have regular 9 to 5 hours, said Childs. You can imagine as the only nurse or midwife, she was called upon at any hour of the day or night.
Her job was not a convenient job, there were none of the modern conveniences we now have on St. John at that time, no electricity or motor vehicles it was sort of a makeshift job, Childs added.
Despite the fact that the island had no cars or busses at the time, Keating-Smith traveled by whatever means necessary to get her job done.
She traveled throughout St. John in thunder, rain, dark or moonlight through goat paths and cutlass-cleared trails, walking, riding donkeys, horses, mules and even rowboats or sailboats with her black bag always by her side, said a press release from the Office of the Governor announcing the womens inductions.
Keating-Smith departed this world on May 4, 1994, but her legacy as St. Johns wonder nurse, according to the governors press release, lives on through those she knew, those she brought into the world and the many St. John residents who recognize her name from the health care clinic named in her honor.
Also inducted into the Virgin Islands Womens Hall of Fame were Juel T.R.. Molloy, the first commissioner of the Department of Human Services; Dorothy L. Elskoe, the Culture Lady; Winifred Garfield, RN, CRNA, the first Registered Nurse in the territory to receive certification as a Nurse Anesthetist.
Also, June Adams, chair of the Roy L. Schneider Medical Center Hospital Board; Zeathea Armstrong, the first female licensed pharmacist in the Virgin Islands; Dr. Fiolina Bocachica-Mills, the driving force behind the establishment of school libraries in public, private and parochial schools, and Ruth E. Thomas, teacher, department chairperson, assistant principal and principal of the Charlotte Amalie High School for 33 years.
Inducted posthumously were Lucinda A. Millin, the first female Virgin Islands senator; Rhoda H.T. Tillet, co-founder and owner of Tillet Garden Arts and Entertainment Complex, and Maude Proudfoot, appointed in 1933 as the first and only social worker in the established Department of Social Welfare.
Also, Edith Williams, responsible for the establishment of the school lunch program in the Virgin Islands; Mariel Newton, the first policewoman in the territory; Keating-Smith; and Gertrude Lockhart-Dudley-Melchoir, the first female principal at All Saints School.