When the George. A Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training in Jacksonville were founded in 1901, it was to serve the medical needs of the African-American community and to train Black women and girls to be nurses. The establishments of both the hospital and the school are due to the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church focused on helping to educate the illiterate by founding several institutions for Blacks in Jacksonville, including the Cookman Institute, the Boylan Industrial Home and School of Negro Girls and the George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training.
Miss Hattie E. Emerson, the cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the noted essayist and poet from Massachusetts, was a white missionary from the North, who was determined to lead her church’s mission. In 1886, she established the Boylan Industrial Home and School for Negro Girls, serving as principal in a six-room cottage at the corner of Davis and Duval Streets.
Emerson faced challenges in her role, including when the Florida Legislature passed a bill threatening to dismantle the work that she and the Woman’s Home Missionary Society had spent nine years on. Specifically, the law prohibited white teachers from instructing Black schools, and white and Black students from being taught in the same class or building together.
Emerson’s response to this law? She called it “unChristian,” and issued a statement reassuring all students they would be cared for as conscientiously as they had been in the past. School continued as normal, and additional classes were added to Emerson’s school, based on community need, such as Bible classes for the city’s Chinese and Syrian residents.