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The Pearsall Women: Marion Peters Pearsall

Born to William and Margaret Peters in 1920 in Roslyn, NY, Marion Peters Pearsall was the first wife of Eugene Arrell Pearsall, whose autobiography features in our Black History portal and has become a rich source for historical information about Roslyn’s Black community. Their son, Bryan Pearsall, recently shared with us a large collection of family photos which included this beautiful standing portrait of Marion at the age of five when she was a member of her older brother, Lester Peters’ wedding party:

Marion attended the Roslyn Heights School and can be seen in this 2nd-grade class picture:

Graduating from Roslyn High School in 1937, Marion was involved in numerous activities such as the Girl’s Athletic Association and playing piano in the school orchestra.

Soon after her graduation, Marion entered The Lincoln School for Nurses. The 1940 census shows that at one point she lodged as a boarder, along with other students, nurses, and doctors, under her legal first name "Flora", at 320 Concord Street in the Bronx. One of the few institutions where BIPOC were able to receive a nursing education, The Lincoln School for Nurses was founded in 1898. The NYPL Archives & Manuscripts overview of their collection of materials related to the school gives the following information:

It was the first school of its type in the United States. The Lincoln School was located on the site of the Society for the Relief of Worthy Indigent Colored Persons, which began operation in 1839. In 1902 its name was changed to Lincoln Hospital and Home, and in the 1920's it became affiliated with Lincoln Hospital, which was operated by the City of New York. The Lincoln School's first graduating class was in 1900, with a total of six graduates. 1961 was the year of its last graduating class. A total of 1,864 black women from the United States, Haiti and other Caribbean countries, Bermuda and Africa attended the Lincoln School for Nurses.

Marion graduated from The Lincoln School in 1941, and can be seen here with the rest of her graduating class:

She and Arrell were married in September of that year and went on to live a long happy life together with their three children, Sharon, Bryan, and Richard.

Marion owned and operated a nursing agency until poor health forced her to sell the business. The Pearsall’s eventually moved west to Deming, New Mexico where Marion passed away in 1987 at the age of 67. When Arrell received her death certificate, he realized there was a glaring error:

After receiving Marion's death certificate, I noticed for her occupation she was listed as a domestic. I don't [know] why some interviewers take it upon themselves to fill in some spots without asking. But, I do know why! If you are a minority or a person of color you had to be a domestic or a laborer. Marion had been a New York State registered nurse for 46 years. Her last position at North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, L.I. was Administrative Assistant in the Nursing office. In 1966 she left this position and bought out a nursing employment agency. She supplied twelve hospitals, nursing homes plus private homes with private duty, registered and licensed practical nurses. She ran this agency until 1976 when she had to sell and retire because of health reasons.

This interviewer had also marked her down as negro for race. How can someone put you down as one race when your parents and grandparents were negro, Indian and white who

were all born in the U.S.A? l would call this person an American.

When I received her death certificate, I went down to the funeral home. I told the woman at the desk I would like to see the man who filled out Marion's death certificate. She said he wasn’t there now, but perhaps she could help me. I showed her the certificate and told her Marion was not a domestic. She was a Licensed Registered Nurse. She said it would have to be sent to Santa Fe. I told her I didn't care what it takes, I want it to be corrected.

Arrell’s dedication to preserving his wife’s legacy as an educated, licensed professional is one of the most touching moments in his incredible autobiography. His comments regarding his wife’s race highlight the flaws of reductive pigeonholing in public records in regards to all aspects of identity. This well-documented tradition of superficial evaluation continues today with nearly every form that requires such reporting. Written decades ago, Arrell’s expression that his wife was not defined by the mechanisms by which society categorizes people suggests a progressive, enlightened viewpoint. Though it has yet to gain significant resonance, this sentiment will hopefully prevail in the future.

In Memory of Flora Marion Peters Pearsall


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