New Scholarship Program Honors Tuskegee’s First Nursing Graduate

Della D. Sullins was recently honored posthumously by members of her family with an endowed scholarship named in her honor at Tuskegee Univerity in Alabama. Retired colonel and 1968 Tuskegee alumnus Palmer Sullins Jr. presented a donation in his late mother’s name during the university’s annual Fall Convocation. The Della Davison Sullins Endowed Scholarship will provide financial support for nursing students.

Sullins was among three nursing students who came to Tuskegee to obtain the necessary coursework to earn a degree when then-Tuskegee Institute launched the state’s first bachelor’s degree nursing program in 1948. When the trio completed that coursework and readied for graduation on May 16, 1949, Sullins had the highest grade point average among the three, which slotted her to walk first during the ceremony — as well as into the university’s and state’s history books.

Sullins was born in Indian Land, South Carolina, in 1917. During her 33-year career with the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Sullins served a staff nurse, supervisor, assistant chief, instructor, and clinical specialist. She was the first African-American nurse appointed to the Alabama Board of Nursing by then-Gov. George C. Wallace — an appointment she held for five years. She served as an adjunct faculty member at Tuskegee for 15 years, as well as the director of the practical nursing program at Southern Vocational College and as the first African-American faculty member at Troy University. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 96.

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